Outer East Portland gets first look at Portland City Council candidates at Gateway meeting

See which candidates did show up at the Gateway Area Business Association luncheon, to pitch their candidacy for one of the two open Portland City Council seats …

Gateway Area Business Association president Fred Sanchez, of Realty Brokers, welcomes members and guests to the February meeting at Russellville Park West.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
While the turnout of Portland City Council candidates was disappointing, the membership of the Gateway Area Business Association (GABA) turnout was strong – when they met on February 9.

After welcoming members, introducing members of GABA’s board, and promoting upcoming events – including the revitalized Fun-O-Rama scheduled for May, and their music project with Parkrose High School – the organization’s president, Fred Sanchez, asked candidates for Portland City Council to come up for the featured portion of the meeting.

Colleen Gifford of ABC Sustainable Solutions is presented the famed GABA Rubber Chicken Award by the Keystone Kops, recognizing her volunteer work on behalf of the organization.

Attorney Bruce McCain points out that the city’s Primary Election is coming up on May 15 as he begins moderating the Portland City Council candidates’ forum.

“Three of our seven candidates for Portland City Council are here with us today,” McCain began.

McCain welcomed seated Position No. 1 City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, and noted that contender State Representative Mary Nolan couldn’t attend, because the legislature was in session. He also said that another candidate, Teressa Raiford, was “with a family member in the hospital, in dire straits, and can’t make it.”

He also introduced Bruce Altizer, observing that this candidate hadn’t yet completed his filing for the Position No. 1 City Commissioner spot. However, Altizer assured McCain and the audience that he had collected enough signatures in order to file “by nominating petition” – a claim later substantiated for East Portland News by City of Portland Auditor’s Office City Elections Director Ryan Kinsella.

In the race for retiring Portland Position No. 4 City Commissioner Randy Leonard, only Powellhurst Gilbert Neighborhood Association president Mark White was present. “We extended invitations to Steve Novick and Jeri Williams, who are not here today,” McCain said.

Portland Position No. 4 City Commissioner candidate Mark White introduces himself at the GABA meeting.

Asked to introduce himself, Mark White responded, “I am president of the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association, and live here in East Portland.  I am the co-chair of the Portland Charter Commission.  I’m also the creator and primary planner for the East Portland Exhibition.”

Incumbent Position No. 1 City Commissioner Amanda Fritz greets listeners at the meeting.

Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz followed with her own self-introduction. “I learned to stand up for working people, and be the voice for working people, ten years ago when I was on strike with OHSU nurses. I have been City Commissioner for three years.  I’m running for re-election because I did what I was going to do – and I want to keep doing that for you.

“I live in deep Southwest Portland, which like this area, was annexed about 40 years ago,” Fritz continued. “We also don’t have paved streets, sidewalks, crosswalks, and a lot of amenities.  My parents-in-law live at CherryWood Village, and my son taught at Marshall High School for two years before it closed, and is currently teaching at Madison High School.”

Position No. 1 City Commissioner candidate Bruce Altizer gives his introduction.

Bruce Altizer greeted the audience, “I live here in East Portland, in the Russell Neighborhood behind the Bi-Mart.  I own and operate two Postal Annexes in the area – one at NE 122nd Avenue and NE Glisan Street, and one at SE 162nd Avenue and SE Division Street. I’m running for a lot of folks out here who think we’ve been under-represented on the City Council, and would like to see that changed.”

After a retelling of outer East Portland’s political and economic history, McCain addressed the candidates and asked, “What would you do as a returning or new City Council member, to improve economic development?”

Editor’s Note: Candidate responses have been carefully edited for clarity and succinctness, preserving the content of their replies.

Mark White replied, “Some of the changes that have taken place, since the annexation of my neighborhood – these are the major catalyst for me running for office. David Douglas School District has gone from 39% of students receiving free or reduced cost lunch to about 80%. This comes from the changes in zoning to the area.”

White continued, “I’m in favor of incentivizing business development. Also, there should be a way to perhaps cut back on the permit fees – at least for a short period of time – to help jumpstart businesses. I would probably give additional emphasis to businesses that are homegrown, here in Portland.”

Amanda Fritz responded, “There is currently a representative on the Portland City Council who lives in East Portland, Commissioner Leonard – and I submit that I’ve been more of an advocate for people in East Portland over the three years, because I’ve been working with people like Linda Robinson from Hazelwood, Bonny McKnight from Russell, and Linda Bauer from Pleasant Valley, over the last 15 years.  We realize that deep Southwest and outer East Portland have similar problems.”

Fritz continued by saying she supports public education as “a means to support business”. She added “For the last two years I’ve been working to streamline ‘permitting’. I opposed Commissioner Leonard putting all the permit staff in one Bureau, which would have meant development was the only criterion that they had to judge upon – rather than on environmental issues and neighborhood issues. Instead, we co-located those Bureaus so they’re much more efficient. We did that as a pilot, and is working well, and we would like to expand that to all ‘permitting’.”

Fritz said that she supports the current PDC-operated Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative districts. She added that overall, Portland City government has “cut nearly 10% in the last three years” , but was able to get a “small stretch of sidewalks built”.

“I am currently the ‘Gateway Area Business Association Person of the Year’, a unanimous choice of the judges. I feel part of this community, very connected to all of Portland – all of Portland – and I think it’s good to run city-wide, because then when I’m on the City Council making my votes, I think about the whole city, instead of the place right where I happen to live.”

Bruce Altizer responded, “In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll say that I am a member of GABA, and have been for a number of years. In fact I’ve been a past president.

“I’m a small business owner; a lot of you know me,” Altizer continued. “I’ve had my store up at NE 122nd Avenue and Glisan Street for 13 years.  In 1998, the median household income in my trade area – you’re about three miles from the store – was just a [little] under $50,000. Last time I checked, in 2005, it was down to around $40,000, and is under $40,000 now. Those of you operating businesses here know that this [makes it] tough to operate a business.  If the revenue and money of your customers goes down, and your landlord wants to raise the rent, and health insurance premiums are going up, it squeezes you pretty hard.”

Altizer went on, “I understand, it’s not just my business or little businesses – but there are medium-size businesses out here, too.  I feed off them, and their employees. Their employees feed off larger businesses.  What I’d like to see the City doing is make it possible for larger employers to be here, and stay here.  And also, to make it work with existing and smaller sized businesses, when they’re doing planning in the area.

“A few years back, the City came up with a wonderful plan for 122nd Avenue – essentially, they wanted to put all the car dealers out of business.  Someone had to stop that.” Altizer also bemoaned the addition of curb extensions that reduced the number of right-turn lanes on major streets, “and adds to vehicle congestion”.

“The City Council spends a lot of money, millions of dollars, creating a new Bureau – and that’s money that could be spent on sidewalks and street repairs out here.  They spend money on consultants, like communication consultants, who to tell us what a great job they’re doing – and I’d like to see some of that money going to fixing things out here.”

Bruce McCain continues posing questions to candidates.

McCain commented that Portland is one of the last major cities in the nation to use the “commission” form of government, and asked candidates to share their thoughts regarding changing the City Charter so that commissioners could be elected by geographic region.

Bruce Altizer responded, “I would like to see us go to a ‘strong mayor’ form, and to see the City Council elected geographically. I think the last time it failed was because there wasn’t a good transition plan to make that happen.”

Amanda Fritz responded, “I am much less a fan of the commission form of government than I was when I was elected.  I’d like to have a different term, with a different cast of characters, to see how it could be made to work better. It is the form of government with which we have to work now. And, so we need to make the best of what we have, as we do in every session of the City budget. The advantage of the commission form of government is that it requires collaboration, or it allows collaboration.”

Mark White responded, “There is a lot of partisan politics going on within our local nonpartisan government. That creates a lot of problems. As far as the commission form of government, I think it can potentially work, if the folks who are elected are community-based.  It makes a really big difference if Commissioners’ agendas are for the good of entire city, as opposed to the people who contribute for their campaigns.”

GABA members and guests listen, as candidates express their ideas and ideals.

McCain asked next, “What role, if any, should the Portland City Council play in education? If there is a role to play, what would you do to ensure the public schools east of 82nd Avenue would be treated the same as other schools?”

Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz speaks about public education.

Amanda Fritz replied, “I was a Portland Public Schools mom for 17 years; my kids started kindergarten the year after Measure 5 passed. The state legislature needs to step up and fix school funding; it’s their responsibility.” Fritz added, “I have been a strong supporter of Mayor Sam Adams, and I think we are all pretty invested in education on the City Council, having had our kids in public schools.”

Fritz continued, “I was the leader in getting $200,000 for Parkrose High School, for their soccer field, recognizing the kids don’t go to school [because they enjoy taking] a math test.” She concluded, “Teachers are doing the best they can with what they have. Working together with volunteers, we can make this a good community as well as having good schools.”

Bruce Altizer talks about education.

Bruce Altizer responded, “I would agree with Amanda on a lot of it. Funding to schools is something that the State has got to fix. I was opposed to Measure 5; when it passed, I thought, ‘we are shooting ourselves in the foot with this’. It took away a lot of local control; where a local school district could raise the money to fund programs – it took it away.”

Altizer continued, “I grew up in Lebanon [Oregon]. Down there, they put the budget to voters every year.  Sometimes it took two or three times before it passed.”

Turning to local educational issues, Altizer concluded, “There’s not a lot of money within the City budget to be granting money to schools. Wherever there’s stuff that we can do outside – like GABA [at one time] offering a scholarship for a David Douglas senior.  That’s something the school boards and business associations can do. I think the City, along with the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, can support that.”

Candidate Mark White comments on education.

Mark White responds, “I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with a four school superintendents here in the outer East Portland area; I’ll be meeting with ‘All Hands Raised’ next month. I see how the lack of funding for education has impacted my neighborhood – it causes stress for teachers and our parents.”

“The things the City can do are quite limited,” White continued. “However there are things that we can do that have been mentioned. It’s important that educators serve on Commissions – like Parkrose Superintendent Karen Gray being on the Planning and Sustainability Commission.”

White concluded, “Probably the best thing the City can do is help create an atmosphere that helps create jobs, and increase economic development here.  If we can increase the per capita income of the residents in the city and state, it’s going to raise the amount of money that’s available for education. It’s kind of a win-win to create jobs, because schools benefit – it works to all of our benefit.”

Turning to public safety, McCain asked candidates to speak on the topic.

Mark White responded, “For me, I lived in North Portland for many years. It wasn’t until I moved to outer East Portland that people started getting shot. [Editor’s note: It did not seem to be White’s intent in this statement to take blame for the shootings, by his act of having moved here.] A teenager was shot in the head, in a park across the street close to my house. We had a tenant find a shotgun next to their car when there was a shooting out on 122nd Avenue. The answer is really simple and easy: Community Policing.”

White added, “When we had a ‘bike patrol’ on three streets in my area, there was no crime at all, just because there were ‘eyes on the street’. We need to make sure we can do these kinds of things. [Changes in police precinct boundaries] made it unsafe for the bike patrol to continue. So if we can move to more community policing, I think this could help quite a bit.”

Amanda Fritz responded, “One of the reasons I’m working to get reelected is that I’m working on a project with Multnomah County and Cascadia Mental Health to get mental health professionals working with the police to help people experiencing mental health crises in the City. We’re halfway through a three-year project.

“I worked at OHSU in psychiatry for 22 years; I’m the only one of the City Council who knows how both the City and the County systems work – and also, the special needs of people with mental illnesses,” Fritz continued. “We’ve made a lot of progress, and will make more. We’re changing some of the protocols in the Portland Police Bureau – instead of rushing in with guns and tasers blazing, if it’s possible, to take a step back. We’re also trying to offer care that is more compassionate.”

Bruce Altizer responded, “Amanda, when I’m elected, I’d love to have you keep working on that!”

Altizer then said he agreed with White and Fritz. “Community Policing is where it starts and ends. Cops have a difficult job. I’m an old military guy, and at the last [candidate forum] I was asked about militarization of the police department. The military and the police are different animals. Public police departments are not the same as military police. The job of our police is to keep people alive. My job, while in the service, was to keep people dead – not my job anymore, though.

“I guess we have a lot of problems with mental health issues,” Altizer continued, “and I  agree with Amanda, but we don’t have the resources right now to get people to deal with this.  I’d like to see the County have medical health officials to help respond to those [in mental crisis].”

With that, the candidates each asked attendees for their vote in the primary election on May 15.

CANDIDATES FOR CITY COMMISSIONER, POSITION NO. 1

Altizer, Bruce

 

Fritz, Amanda

Nolan, Mary

 

Raiford, Teressa

CANDIDATES FOR CITY COMMISSIONER, POSITION NO. 4

Novick, Steve

 

White, Mark

 

Williams, Jeri

 

Meet the potential mayor of Portland on March 8
On March 8, members of the Gateway Area Business Association meet, starting at 11:30 a.m. This month, the meeting serves as a Portland Mayoral Candidate Forum, facilitated by noted attorney Bruce McCain.

GABA now meets at Russellville Park West Building in the Theater – 23 SE 103rd, Portland. Lunch: $8. Directions: From SE 102nd, turn east on SE Ankeny Street towards SE 103rd, turn left into underground parking, take elevator up to Theater. For more information, see their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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