From digging an educational garden, to painting and setting up a free “school supplies store” – see what a difference this large group of volunteers made one Saturday morning at Kelly Elementary School …

Christine Rhoney, SUN site manager for Kelly Elementary School, shows the school supplies they’ve put out at their “free store” to help needy kids.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
As the school year gets underway, we are pleased to see the community pitching in to help the students and teachers get off to a good start.

In the Lents Neighborhood, Kelly Elementary School got a boost on September 8 from about 75 volunteers from Imago Dei Community, a Christian church of 1,400 members that meets at Franklin High School.

“All I can say is ‘whoopee’!” exclaims Kelly’s principal, Sharon Allen. She apologizes for her exuberance; we ask why she’s excited. “From painting, to cleaning and trimming, these volunteers are doing our school a world of good today.”

Trimming bushes around the school are Imago Dei Community members Patrick Wilson, Amber Pierce, and Diane Galvez.

Inside the school, we are introduced to JJ Bjordahl, an organizer of the event. He tells us their group selected Kelly school as part of their “Love Portland” project. “Helping the community is part of the mission of our Community.”

In Kelly’s gym, Christine Rhoney, SUN site manager for Kelly Elementary School, tells us more about the project.

“We partnered with Imago Dei Community last year,” she explains. They helped us put on an end-of-school picnic at Blue Lake Park. They wanted Kelly to be one of the schools they helped this year.”

The front of the gym has been turned into a “store” of kids clothing and school supplies – to outfit at least 200 kids.

“This is awesome! Look at all these school supplies they’ve donated,” points out Rhoney. “This ‘free store’ is so necessary in our community; we’re in a high poverty area. It is very difficult for families to buy supplies for students. This clothing and these supplies will really help our students get off to a good start.”

Lisa Armour applies needed paint at the school’s doorway.

SUN Schools, Rhoney tells us, provide resources and referrals for families in their service area. “We’re like the community social worker. We connect families with organizations and agencies throughout the community, to enhance the programs we have here at the school.”

Many Imago Dei Community volunteers labor long and hard to build and fence an educational garden at Kelly School.

As if the cleaning, digging, pruning, and school supply donation wasn’t enough, the group also hosted a barbecue for families, as they came in to visit the free store.

“Today is a very good day at Kelly School,” summarizes Principal Allen.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

Most folks haven’t heard much from Ted Wheeler since he took the Multnomah County Chair office in January. You might be surprised to learn what his priorities are …

In one of his first public appearances in outer East Portland, Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler talks candidly about his goals – the realities of politics.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Since Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler was swept into office by voters last November, we haven’t heard much from him – other than when he shared his mountaineering experiences with the Parkrose Business Association.

But last week, Wheeler accepted Ross Monn’s invitation to speak with community members at the Wilkes Community Association monthly meeting.

“It is a beautiful night,” Wheeler began, “thank you for taking the time to come; it shows you care about the community in which you live.”

Admitting he might not have the answers to all questions raised by those present, Wheeler started by outlining the responsibilities of county government.

Multnomah County 101
Wheeler detailed the wide array of services provided by the county:

  • Public safety, including the Sheriff’s Office, River Patrol and jails;
  • The District Attorney’s Office;
  • Safety net” human Services, operating or administrating energy assistance, federal programs for infants, women and children and antipoverty programs;
  • Treatment services for those who are jailed and released, in addition to alcohol and drug addiction rehabilitation services;
  • Maintaining roads, and 27 bridges – including six bridges that cross the Willamette River;
  • The public library system;
  • Animal services;
  • Conducting elections;
  • Tax collection; and
  • Land use planning services in unincorporated areas of Multnomah County.

Wheeler gives Wilkes Community Association neighbors an overview of his top priorities.

Outlines fourfold priorities
“I’m here mostly to meet you, and hear your concerns,” Wheeler continues. “But first, here are my four top priorities for the county:

1. Public Safety
“First is making the public safety system whole.  I want a balanced public safety system. This is more than opening the Wapato jail; I’m talking about the whole spectrum of public safety services.

“This includes [crime] prevention. By the time we put someone in jail, the system has failed. Intervention and prevention is very important to me. And, we must have law enforcement and prosecutorial accountability.

“Beyond sending people to jail, I want them to come back to the community as fully engaged, productive citizens. Sometimes they need a little help in terms of education, mentors, employers, or pastoral care. We want to make sure the recidivism rate goes down.”

Even though they closed the Sellwood Bridge for a day-long inspection, federal inspectors say they’re only 40% done with the job.

2. Sellwood Bridge
“Ahead of all other county transportation issues is dealing with the Sellwood Bridge. It is at a crisis point. That bridge has a rating of “2” on a federal sufficiency scale of 100.

“Federal agencies are inspecting it. They are requesting another two days to complete the study. We need to completely rehabilitate or replace that span.

“There is an ongoing process among neighborhoods, transportation advocates of all kinds, and designers. While the county has $25 Million committed to the project, we’re trying to get state matching dollars, which can lead to getting federal matching dollars. It will be about two years before construction begins.”

3. Emergency management
“Before I came into office, Multnomah County underwent an independent analysis of our emergency management system. We failed. Our procedures and readiness were wholly inadequate; not up to snuff.

“I’ve doubled the staff in [the emergency management office]. We’ve brought in an expert and funded the office’s improvement. Nobody thinks about emergency management until you need it. New Orleans is a good example of what it looks like when you don’t have a good plan in place. It is going to take a while as we rethink the system.”

4. New downtown courthouse
“We need a new downtown Portland courthouse.

“Our current courthouse, while being a historical building, is dilapidated. It’s a firetrap and a potential earthquake hazard. It is no longer functional, considering the volume of business conducted in the courthouse. Accused criminals and citizens travel the same hallways, making it neither safe nor functional.

“We’ve secured a location to build a modern courthouse on the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge. We’ll move an off-ramp that bisects the property. Being a block away from the Justice Center, we’re working on an agreement to build a tunnel between the two.”

Funding the project, Wheeler said, will most likely be done with a general obligation bond. The current building is open to debate; the chair opined that putting the building back on the tax rolls makes sense.

Questions about Wapato Jail
Asked about the long-awaited East County Justice Center, Wheeler said three sites in Gresham are under consideration, and the final selection will be announced within a month.

Questions regarding public safety, and the Wapato Jail, were posed – including, “Can’t the [state] legislature reassign lottery proceeds?”

Wheeler responded, “I’m working with the state to use some of our [jail bed] capacity as a reentry facility for [inmates] from state facilities. We know 98% of them will come back to Multnomah County. It makes sense to connect [released prisoners] with the community, so they can become productive citizens.

“There isn’t a lot of interest in the legislature, from members around the state, to reassign state funds to help out Multnomah County. Potential grant dollars are available. As a last option, I may go back to the taxpayers to make a case to raise taxes to fund it.”

Chair Wheeler pauses as he listens to citizens express their concern that “group homes” and low-income housing are being concentrated in outer East Portland.

Crime and housing density
A neighbor spoke up, saying “I see two factors contributing to East County crime. One is MAX, the other is high-density, low-income housing that is pushed to the edges of Portland.”

These factors come together in Rockwood, she added. “To me, government is in bed with high-density developers. But developers don’t take responsibility for public safety in the areas they create. It breaks my heart to learn of an elderly lady who sleeps in the back of her house in fear of bullets that have come flying through her home.”

Wheeler responded, “This is complicated. Yes. First, MAX is a well-known issue. TriMet has substantially stepped up their patrols, I think.

“Being worried about being shot makes this elderly lady a victim of crime, even though she hasn’t been hurt. It is a quality-of-life issue. The county does have role to play in this. We haven’t provided the number of jail beds needed. There isn’t accountability. It is a tragedy for the community when people are arrested and released. We just enabled them to go back into the community and commit more crime or continue their addiction. We haven’t been able to have an interdiction.”

Co-chair of the neighboring Russell Neighborhood Association Bonny McKnight spoke up about the growing number of “group homes” in outer NE Portland.

“These ‘group homes’ used be ‘care homes’,” McKnight said, “But [group home operation] is merely a business for many owners. If they started a hair styling salon, they would be under more regulation than group homes. The county licenses [group homes]. But when Lisa Naito came out to talk about the issue, she said, ‘There is nothing we can do. Everyone needs a home’.”

To this, Wheeler responded, “I take legal advice, but at the end of the day, I am responsible for my decisions. If we are charged with the responsibility of licensure, we should be in charge. I came into office with a certain amount of naiveté. Most county government workers are good people who care about others. Sometimes we forget that the regulations don’t run us, we run the regulations.”

When Wheeler’s time was up, he thanked the group of about 30 people, and left with a round of applause.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

It wasn’t bad enough that this guy, arrested for being “deep in his cups”, drove like a dolt – see what happened when he broadsided an innocent victim …

While paramedics and firefighters stabilize a passenger riding in the car said to be the cause of the wreck, a police officer talks with 32-year-old Leroy Burke Hartley before arresting him for DUII.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
This wreck, on September 10, wasn’t an “accident”. It didn’t have anything to do with the sun being in the driver’s eyes as he headed westbound, down the hill on SE Holgate Boulevard from SE 28th Avenue. At 9:20 p.m., the sun had long been set.

“The car shot down the hill, like it was trying race the car beside it,” says witness Peter Hacker. “But the other [westbound] car clearly wasn’t racing; the driver turned off on SE 27th to get away from him. The guy driving the Camaro was driving like a total jerk.”

By the time the Camaro approached the intersection at SE 26th Avenue, other witnesses say the speeding car was fishtailing as it careened westward.

Witnesses say the victim could talk with paramedics as they were preparing her to be transported to the hospital, but she was bleeding from the forehead.

Either the driver of the Washington-plated Camaro didn’t see that the he was approaching a red light, or he was going too fast to stop to avoid cross traffic in the intersection.

In what multiple witnesses call a “grinding crash”, the Camaro plowed into the driver’s side, rear door of a red Chevrolet legally passing southbound through the intersection.

The t-bone collision spun the Chevrolet with such force, it rotated the car 90 degrees, before slamming it into a steel utility pole – caving in the side of the vehicle.

The Camaro ground to a stop about 1/2 block west of the intersection, straddling the two eastbound lanes of SE Holgate Boulevard.

Within minutes, Portland Fire & Rescue’s Engine 23 arrived on scene, and firefighters stabilized the injured persons in both cars.

Looking at the victim’s car, it’s easy to understand why witnesses say it’s a miracle the driver survived the crash.

“Looking at her car, I was surprised the woman who got hit could still talk to the rescuers,” Hacker said. “She had a cut on her forehead, but seemed to be talking OK.”

According to Portland Police Bureau spokesperson, Cathe Kent, police arrested 32-year-old Leroy Burke Hartley, charged with Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants. Hartley was booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

Why is this school district paying for the full day program? You’ll learn why they are enthusiastic about this stepped-up program for their 5-year-olds right here, along with photos of some very cute students …

Parkrose School District’s new Director of School Improvement, Jeff Rose, says the introduction of full-day kindergarten at all of their elementary schools will help students to better throughout their educational experience.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
As school ended in Parkrose last June, we told you how – with the approval of incoming Parkrose School Superintendent Dr. Karen Fischer Gray – the district was being reorganized.

Jeff Rose, formerly the Principal at Russell Academy of Academic Achievement, was named to the newly-created post, Director of School Improvement.

Last week, we asked Rose to name the most significant change the district is undertaking this school year.

“The most important is offering full-day kindergarten at every one of our elementary schools,” Rose replied.

Rose said the district is fortunate in that they have the physical classroom space in all of their facilities for the full-day kindergarten program.

“We made the determination that one of the best investments we could make in our students’ education was full-day kindergarten. We put it our budget, making it available to every student in every school,” said Rose.

Touring the schools
We were delighted when several of the Parkrose schools invited us to see their kindergarteners participating in their first week of their educational careers….

Russell Academy of Academic Achievement

Margaret Goff’s kindergarteners enjoy story time during class at Russell Academy

At Russell Academy of Academic Achievement, we’re greeted by the school’s new Principal, Debbie Ebert, an educator with 17 years experience, five of them at Russell Academy.

“What we’ve talked about, as educators here at Russell, is the importance of having longer periods of time to get the job done,” Ebert says about their new kindergarten program. “While they did their best to teach foundation skills of reading, writing, and math, kindergarten teachers found their two-and-a-half hours a day to be too fragmented and short.”

“What is the ‘C’ sound?” asks Heather Bailey as she teaches phonics to her kindergarteners at Russell Academy.

Ebert continued, saying a full day of classes also allows teachers to incorporate more social skills learning, like “play etiquette”.

Basic literacy training, Ebert stated, is the foundation for everything. “If they have a good foundation, all of the subject areas become easier for them.”

Diane Larson with her class of new students at Russell Academy.

Diane Larson spoke with us before her tykes came back to class from morning recess. “With a whole day, we can teach these students in a way that is more developmentally appropriate for their age.”

This is not babysitting, Larson stressed. “By the end of the year, most kids are reading at some level. They can write a couple of sentences. They know the rules – but even more, they know how to be a learner. That’s our goal.”

Shaver Elementary School

Diane Carlsen helps her kindergarteners learn how to make crafts at Shaver Elementary School.

Cindy Bartman, principal of Shaver Elementary School, cheerfully greeted us at her school’s door. She’s a respected educator, having taught for 21 years, and being in administration for the past seven.

“Especially at our school,” Bartman began, “I think full-day kindergarten gives a tremendous advantage to our students. About fifty percent of our kids are Hispanic. They come to us with no English. Being allowed to have a full day of kindergarten, our students get much more English language development than they would during a short day.”

Shaver Elementary kindergarten teacher Michaelle Lenius works on a project that teaches shapes with her new learners.

By the time their students enter first grade, Bartman continued, “they’re already learning to read and write. We’re very academic; it is truly a bonus for students to go into first grade knowing phonics – how to put sounds together – and starting developing strong vocabulary skills, as well.”

The Shaver Principal went on to mention that, in addition to Spanish, their students come from homes in which eleven other non-English languages are spoken. “Here, everybody gets a fair chance at learning English. They all benefit.”

Sacramento Elementary School

Dianna Recinos teaches her class at Sacramento Elementary School.

Completing our tour was a visit to Sacramento Elementary School. Principal Stevie Blakely echoed the sentiments we heard from educators at the other schools.

“This year,” Blakely noted, “We have 72 kindergarteners at the school. We have had parents who have not sent their other kids to part-day kindergarten. Now that we’re offering a full-time academic kindergarten, we’re having more parents who want their kids to participate.”

Parkrose 5-year-olds can enroll in kindergarten late as September 30, under certain circumstances. Check with the district office for details.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

Is the “VisionPDX” plan YOUR vision? Learn where and when to voice your opinion …

Outer East Portland’s top cop, Michael Crebs, says citizens living east of 82nd Avenue of Roses should attend the city’s VisionPDX meeting to make sure their views are appropriately represented in the report.

Story and photo by David F. Ashton
On Wednesday, September 19, at 6 PM the Portland City Council will be shown the results of the “VisionPDX” research study commissioned by Portland Mayor Tom Potter.

One of the committee members who sifted through the thousands of survey reports was the Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander, Michael Crebs. “I accepted the offer, approximately two years ago, to be on the committee.”

Asked about this volunteer assignment, Crebs stated, “Our sole goal was to develop a ‘vision’ for how our city should be in [the year] 2030, based on input from the community. We did not want it to the vision of the mayor or city council. We wanted it to be the vision of our community. I feel that we reached our goal.”

Urges hearing the plan – and being heard
When we enquired why outer East Portland folks should go to the meeting, Crebs told us, “At this meeting, the Mayor will present the final product. It is important for citizens to be there – especially people in outer East Portland – so they can let Mayor know, after hearing the report, whether or not to accept it.”

Portland City Hall is located in downtown Portland, at 1221 SW 4th Avenue. Be sure the use the 4th Avenue entrance – all others are permanently closed.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

With the area between Portland and Gresham, along the MAX line, getting to be as lawless as an old Western stagecoach stop, see what law enforcement agencies plan to do about it …

Portland and Gresham police department leaders, flanked by officials from both cities, say their determined to cut crime along outer East Portland MAX stops at a Sept. 10 press conference.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Because of the current rash of shootings, stabbings, muggings, beatings, and drug-dealing at the 162 Avenue/E. Burnside Street MAX station area – where Portland ends and Gresham begins – the Portland Police Bureau is joining forces with Gresham cops to slow the escalating crime wave.

Incidents in the area have been too numerous; within the week, no less than 18 violent crimes have been reported. September 10, a shotgun assault occurred, as did an attack on a 30-year-old man by as many as 20 young thugs – one brandishing a pistol.

People living in the area – especially the elderly – say they’re afraid to leave their homes or apartments for fear of being mugged or murdered for $5 or a wristwatch.

Late afternoon, September 11, we arrive at a press conference set up at the westbound MAX platform, and find Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs, and Transit Police Commander Donna Henderson, joined by East Portland Crime Reduction Specialist Teri Poppino and Gang Taskforce coordinator Harry Jackson, all ready to speak out.

Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso says “…our intention is to take back these streets …”

Not a one-city problem
“This isn’t a one-city problem,” Piluso begins, “This is all our concern. We’re standing on the boundary between Portland and Gresham. While we acknowledge that boundary, we know crime knows no jurisdictional boundaries.

“During June, July, and August, in this immediate area, there have been 25 reported assaults, 10 vandalisms, 17 drug offences, and 57 high priority crimes including robbery, serious assault, and auto theft.”

Piluso goes on, detailing numerous arrests made during joint police missions in late August and early September. “Enough is enough. We are more than doubling our resources in this area, for as long as it takes to make a difference. It is our intention to take back these streets from a criminal element that disrupting our citizens who work, live, and plan a visit to this area.”

The police of both cities intend to “send a message” to citizens and crooks, says Gresham Capt. Tim Gerkman

Next, Gresham Capt. Tim Gerkman steps up to the podium. He tells reporters that Portland and Gresham officers will saturate the area on foot, in cars, riding motorcycles, and on bicycles. “We hope to send a message to law-abiding citizens in this area that we’re not going to tolerate this criminal behavior any longer. We’re going to take back the streets and the area and make it safe.”

Portland police adds officers to area
Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs outlines why he’s assigning additional officers to the area. “Over the last few months, we’ve noted an increase of violence and intimidation happening here. A woman, living right here in this area, just told me that a rock was thrown through her window for no reason. Last night, a stray bullet went into a victim’s home. I’m committed to authorize the overtime needed to take this area back.”

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs says he’s authorized overtime to keep Portland cops at troubled intersections.

After confirming Gerkman’s strategy, Crebs adds, “This is a short term fix. We’re working with all city agencies to create a long-term solution to this problem.” For example, he states they’re going to press to have trouble-making apartment tenants evicted. “This is along-term project. It won’t be solved overnight.”

Just a quick fix?
When they call for questions, we ask, “There are incidents happening every night at this, and other MAX stops in outer East Portland and western Gresham. Why take this action now?

Piluso responds, “As I said earlier, we’ve seen this escalate and escalate. We’ve had enough.”

Saying that residents have said they’re skeptical that the police will be here long term, a TV reporter asks, “How dedicated are you to the long term?”

“By the sheer presence of everybody standing here today,” Piluso rejoins, “I can tell you that the Gresham Police Department is in this for the long haul. It isn’t going away overnight; it isn’t going away in a week. We will work with this community, as well as our law enforcement partners, to not just displace but to work hard to solve. We’re bringing the right people together to put the right plan together.”

Commander Crebs adds, “We can’t solve the problem ourselves. We need the citizens’ help. Some citizens are scared, but we need them to step up and help out by being our eyes and ears to report crime. If citizens see crime, they must call 911 immediately.”

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

Folks came from miles around, drawn to the dark plume of smoke that arose from the fire said to have caused $400,000 in damages to the plant. Read how the fire started, and see exclusive photos, right here …

Between blasts of water from multiple hoses, firefighters peer through smoke and steam to check their progress fighting the fire in the plant’s Wax Room.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
For a mile surrounding the intersection of SE Harney Dr. and SE Johnson Creek Blvd., traffic is at a standstill about 1:30 p.m. on September 8. A plume of thick, black smoke indicates a major fire is the reason the roads are closed.

Walking up Harney Dr. to the scene of the fire at Precision Castparts, we pass neighbor Chris Johnson as he works in his yard. “I looked up and saw plume of smoke coming up from the far side of the plant,” Johnson tells us. “Then there was a big explosion and the smoke turned thick and dark.”

Along the way, we walk with another area resident, Myra Kelsey. “I didn’t see it, but I sure did hear a big boom from blocks away,” she says. “I looked over and saw a big cloud of black smoke; I’m worried that the smoke might be toxic.”

Walking past the command truck, we overhear the Battalion Chief say on his two-way radio, “Even with fighting the fire from the inside, we may have to open the roof and put more water on it from the outside.”

Firefighters say they were concerned that the blaze might touch off a wildfire on the steep terrain surrounding the Precision Castparts plant.

The industrial fire, said to have started accidentally during a cleaning operation in the “wax room” located on the plant’s east side, burned so hot, it touched off the tinder-dry brush on the steep hillside leading up to a parking lot.

“Firefighters recognized the potential for a fast spreading brush fire on this hot day,” says Portland Fire & Rescue spokesman Lt. Doug Jones. “Firefighters quickly attacked the fire from multiple directions while other firefighters began fire suppression efforts in the involved building fire.”

Equipment from eleven stations responded to the two-alarm industrial fire.

Approximately 60 firefighters, responding from eleven stations, stay on scene for hours. Eventually, they start disconnecting their lines, and rolling up thousands of feet of fire hose.

No injuries were reported by either company workers or firefighters in this blaze that reportedly caused $400,000 in damages to one building.

After the fire was brought under control, firefighters were faced with draining and repacking thousands of feet of fire hose on this hot, sunny afternoon.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

Learn why police officers take their day off to help disadvantaged youth become well-equipped for school right here …

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs helps Douglas Murphy look sharp for the start of his 5th grade at Earl Boyles Elementary in the David Douglas School District.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Early in the morning, just before school started this year on August 29, we are present to see a large contingent of Portland Police Bureau officers gathering in front of the Johnson Creek Fred Meyer store on S.E. 82nd. The cops were coming by, on their day off, to help disadvantaged kids in Southeast get back-to-school clothing and supplies which their families could not otherwise afford.

Unlike many charitable programs, these kids have earned the right to participate in this officer-guided shopping spree, says Southeast Precinct Sgt. Larry Graham. He should know. Graham has helped direct the interagency “Shop with a Cop” program since its inception five years ago.

Event coordinators Portland Police Bureau SE Precinct Sgt. Larry Graham, Amy Jacobs, Asst Store Manager, Fred Meyer, and Nick Sauvie, ROSE Community Development, after they brief officers about the event.

“These kids have earned the right to participate,” Graham explains. “These kids, from the Boys & Girls Clubs and ROSE CDC, have participated in our GREAT program, and have provided community service. They’ve done a lot of good things for the community.”

From the police bureau’s standpoint, the event is a good opportunity for officers to connect with kids in a positive way. “These kids often have difficult home lives,” Graham comments, “today; they get to spend time with a police officer in a situation other than an emergency or catastrophe.”

Officer Jeff Pontius, SE Precinct NET team helps 7th grader Bryce Loudon get clothes he needs for school.

SE Precinct officer Rachael Strobel helps Maria and Gorethy Sandoval get new clothes for school.

Another great partner of the program is retailer Fred Meyer. “Through our partnerships, we have grown this program,” says store manager Amy Jacobs, also one of the event’s founders. “Fred Meyer adds to the program every year. This year, along with their new clothes, we’re giving each child a backpack, with school supplies and umbrellas.”

Asked why a mass merchandiser, owned by a national company, participates in this program, Jacobs tells us, “We’ve long been part of the community, and community service is how we show our appreciation for our neighbors’ support. And, these kids are our future shoppers and associates!”

A happy Capt. Chris Uehara, formerly of East Precinct, now at Family Services Division, helps Kevin Nguien choose school clothing.

Nick Sauvie, executive director of ROSE CDC tells us why their organization continues to be involved in the program – this year, serving 100 children. “It’s not easy for disadvantaged kids to start school wearing ragged clothes, and not having even the most basic school supplies. Providing them with the basics will probably help them do better in school.”

Sauvie adds that their organization plays two roles in the event. “We provide part of the funding and recruit residents from affording housing to participate.”

JJ Baker gets a trim from Shara Atterton, manager Johnson Creek Great Clips.

We ask one young “shopper” how he’s enjoying the event. Smiling ear to ear, he says, “This is really fun. I didn’t know cops could be so cool!”

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

There’s no question whether or not this creek, which runs from Gresham to the Willamette River, floods. But find out why some outer SE Portland residents are concerned about the city’s plans …

Dale Guldenzopf shows the group, gathered at an empty lot owned by the City of Portland in Lents, a floodplain map from the 1940s. “I live next door. I have to pay for flood insurance, but I’m not even in the floodplain,” Guldenzopf says.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The group that gathers in an empty lot owned by the City of Portland in Lents on SE 108th Avenue keeps growing, as a meeting called by the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) gets underway on August 23.

The meeting’s topic: The East Lents Floodplain Restoration Project.

BES Johnson Creek project manager Maggie Skenderian points out the location of the property on which this meeting is taking place in Lents.

“This project will reduce flood damage in Lents,” says the Johnson Creek project manager from BES, Maggie Skenderian, setting the stage for the meeting. “This project will add flood storage and habitat on BES property south of Foster Road, from 106th Avenue east to 110th Drive.”

Along these blocks, we learn, 75% of the property has been bought by the City of Portland. “We’ve received a $2.7 Million FEMA grant for this project; the City matching the grant with a $900,000 budget. The project is in the design phase, and construction is scheduled for summer of 2009.”

Flooding every ten years
As she starts the meeting, Skenderian says that Johnson Creek has major floods every ten years, and minor floods every other year.

“When we have a big event, the creek flows over the banks,” explains Skenderian. “The water doesn’t have places to go. We’re in the process if trying to identify what our potential opportunities and concerns are here, from the people who live in the immediate area.”

Civil engineer Eirik Schultz talks about options available to alleviate flooding events.

Stepping up to the maps, Eirik Schultz and Vigil Agrimis, say they come from a firm of civil engineers, landscape architects specializing in rivers, streams and wetlands.

“The Johnson Creek channel has moved over time,” Schultz begins. “At one time, it was over here,” he says, pointing to a map. “But, it might have been over here. We study its hydrology [from the Greek, “water knowledge”]; it migrates and adjusts itself, as it moves water and sediment.”

“Other streams,” Schultz goes on, “may feature a three to four foot wide channel at ordinary high water. During a yearly ‘channel-forming event’, it might widen to 20 feet. Its floodplain would be between 80 to 100 feet wide.

“However, Johnson Creek is a 30-foot wide channel with 12-14 foot vertical sides.

“It doesn’t access its floodplain until a ten year event,” explains Schultz. “When it does overflow its banks, the flooding is going to be very broad.”

Proposes flooding cures and obstacles
“When we connect a stream to the floodplain, it has somewhere to go when it overflows,” says the hydrologist. “We’ll attempt to lower the water surface elevation. At a 10-year event, you’ll see less flooding onto Foster Road. It will not stop flooding on the system, but there is nothing we could do to alleviate flooding from a major event.”

One way to deal with flooding is “storage” – but a dam is impractical on Johnson Creek.

“Another way to deal with it is ‘conveyance’. That is, moving water though the system more quickly. What we’re trying to do is find a balance of the two. We model solutions by considering what happens if we put in a channel here, or widen a channel there.”

But the main constraint on the design, Schultz concludes, is having to design the project around existing bridges, sewer lines, and property owners.

Joyce Beedle, who says she’s lived near the creek since 1984, raises concerns brought forward by neighbors.

Property owners’ concerns voiced
“We have several concerns about the project,” pipes up Joyce Beedle, a 20-year resident, and spokesperson for the Lents-area neighbors affected by the project.

“The ‘we’ I’m referring to are the families who live on 106th 108th and 110th. We’ve gotten together three times now, in the past couple of weeks,” Beedle states, holding a sheaf of notes. “We came up with what we call crucial facts, concerns during construction, after completion, and ‘loose ends’ questions.”

Her list of “critical items” include:
1. “That, in this [BES/FEMA program], there be no means of forcing the current residents out. There is no provision for condemnation.”

Almost a third of the people in the affected area, Beedle estimates, are second or third-generation residents, who plan to pass their property to their next generation.

“There are a fair number of us who have lived here for 20 years or more. The shortest duration is a resident who has been here for eight years,” she adds.

2. “This plan should include maximizing the use of Brookside [a nearby site already completed] as a ‘preamble’ to the work done further west at this new site.”

The reason stated is that this nearby existing site, upstream on Johnson Creek, has been improved for a long enough time that experts should “know what it does, what does not do, and what it could do better.”

3. “This project makes the area a better place to live, instead of degrading this portion of the neighborhood.”

Describing the Brookside project as looking “delightful”, Beedle says that neighbors don’t want the city to construct an ill-planned, “accidental floodplain restoration project”.

4. “Keep in mind that properties on SE 106th Avenue are on septic systems; not city sewer.”

The concern is that, whatever water is traveling through or being stored on BES property in a high water event, will be contaminated by the septic systems. High water may back up septic systems into homes.

5.  “The gravel base on the [unpaved] roads will be destroyed by heavy truck traffic.”

To this, Skenderian states the City of Portland will not be paving the three gravel roads during or after construction.

6.  “We will be holding the City of Portland, represented by BES, as accountable for hiring and responsibly supervising the contractors.”

The concern, Beedle relates, is that contractors won’t be mindful of property owned by neighbors during the construction project.

When Skenderian asks if there are other concerns, longtime area resident Ernie Francisco states she’s concerned that trees will be removed from city property during the project.

“The BES and the City must obtain permits to remove trees, just like any landowner,” Skenderian responds.

This illustration shows areas affected by the City’s proposed project.

Resident questions floodplain maps
Clipping up a map of the Lents Johnson Creek Floodplain from the 1940s, homeowner Dale Guldenzopf proclaims, “The family has been living here since 1929. I’ve been coming to this house for 57 years. This house never flooded. The site flooded, but not the house.”

The site to which Guldenzopf refers is one lot north of the city-owned land at which the meeting is taking place. “I live next door. I have to pay for flood insurance, but I’m not even in the floodplain,” Guldenzopf says.

When he steps to the back of the meeting, we ask Guldenzopf what he thinks of the project, based on what he’s seen.

“If they administer it just right, it will be fine,” he replies. “But I’m a little concerned that they might buy up some of the property and develop it. This is valuable land.”

For more information, or to be put on a meeting notification list, neighbors are being asked to contact Marie Johnson at BES by calling (503) 823-6199, or e-mailing

We’ll keep you up to date as this story – and project – continues to develop.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

Don’t ignore the flashing yellow lights – or school speed zone signs – now that school is back in session. See what happens to scofflaws in too big a hurry, right here …

Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division Officer Doug Gunderson here tracks the speed of vehicles passing by Menlo Park Elementary School using a LIDAR gun.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
For the next couple of weeks – now that school’s back in session – cops are out to catch and ticket drivers speeding through school zones.

It’s not that they’re mean spirited – instead, they’re trying to save kids’ lives.

“The flashing yellow lights mean ‘drop your speed to 20 mph and keep an eye out for the little ones going to school’,” says Sgt. Dan Liu, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct School Police Supervisor.

We’re talking with Liu in front of Menlo Park Elementary School on September 4. As we speak, most cars are slowing down for the school zone. “Going 20 mph gives drivers a lot more reaction time,” Liu explains. “And, the children may simply not be looking. They’re excited about going to school, and, not paying attention.”

However, other drivers seem oblivious to the flashing yellow “school zone” lights – and even seem to overlook the half-dozen police cruisers stopping speeders along NE Glisan Street.

We walk over and stand next to Traffic Division Officer Doug Gunderso, as he takes speed readings off his LIDAR gun. A medical transport van zips past at 38 mph; Gunderson radios ahead to a patrol car that stops the van. “I think this one will be cited, not warned,” Gunderson comments.

Officer Charles Lovell writes up a citation; and it isn’t for good driving. “We’ve got to slow drivers down around schools.” He says.

We go into the school to say hello to Brooke O’Neill, Menlo Park’s Principal. We ask her if she feels this special speed enforcement mission is important.

“All summer long, traffic goes 40 mph, or faster, along NE Glisan Street,” says O’Neill. “We need drivers to get back into the routine of going slowly when they pass the school, any time during the day. We want our kids to be safe, and we appreciate drivers slowing down – and watching out – for our children.”

Fines for speeding in a school zone could be as high as $206.00, for as little as eleven miles over the posted speed.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

Learn why a “welfare check” on a family quickly turned into a crime scene investigation on NE Glisan Street, in this sad story …

Although police officers and paramedics tried to resuscitate the family members that the Multnomah County Coroner says was poisoned by carbon monoxide, the mother, father and child could not be saved.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The stillness of the night was shattered at 11:23 p.m. in the 10900 block of NE Glisan Street on September 6, as police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances converged on a modest house.

“All of a sudden, the street was filled with cops,” Gloria Yalsen tells us as we arrive on scene. “We came out and heard a bang – not like a gun going off. Just a loud ‘thud’ kind of sound. Next thing, I see a cop doing CPR on a guy. I don’t think it worked; the guy is there, under the yellow cover.”

We interview everyone in the area; everyone with whom we speak says they don’t know right then why there is such a high level of public safety provider response.

Tragic event called a Homicide/Suicide
At 5:38 a.m., police spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz tells us he can now release information about the event.

“An occupant of the house sent an e-mail message to a friend in Southern California,” Schmautz begins. “The message informs them of the suicide/homicide.”

When police officers arrive, they find a hose hooked to the exhaust pipe of a hearse, still running, in the home’s driveway.

Officers see the hose is attached to the home’s furnace ductwork. They disconnect the hose and forced entry to the home. The sound heard by the neighbors was, in all likelihood, caused by the forced entry.

“In the home, officers located three incapacitated individuals: 39-year-old John Kuca, 39-year-old Luray Hodder-Kuca, and 5-year-old Ruby Kuca, in a bedroom,” reports Schmautz. “Officers carried all three outside and performed CPR.”

Risking their own safety, officers rush into the home, trying to rescue the occupants. None of the family members survived, police officials say.

We’ve learned, but police will not confirm, that the father and daughter were pronounced dead at the scene. The mother reportedly died on the way to the hospital in the ambulance.

“Detectives confirm that a suicide note was left at the scene,” states Schmautz. However, the spokesman would neither confirm nor deny whether or not their actions were prompted by an illness in their family not covered by health insurance, as some have speculated.

One officer was transported to the hospital after being overcome with carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to rescue the occupants of the house.  He was treated and released.

“The officer is doing OK,” Schmautz says.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

Learn why Mayor Potter trekked to Parkrose, and Governor Kulongoski read a book to second-graders in Woodstock – both on the same morning this week. Check out this exclusive back-to-school story and photos …

Welcoming the mayor to Parkrose Middle School are Melissa Whitcomb, President of the Parkrose High and Middle School PTA; Ana Gonzalez, new Parkrose Middle principal; Student representative Jessica Luckenbaugh; the honoree, Portland Mayor Tom Potter; Marquese Hayes, student ambassador; and Molly Davies, Assistant Principal, Parkrose Middle School.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Even though it isn’t an election year, and no funding measures are up for a vote, both the city’s and state’s chief executives paid visits to schools in East Portland – just as school started for the day on September 6.

Potter visits Parkrose

Bright and early, Mayor Tom Potter waves hello as we both pull into the parking lot at Parkrose Middle School at 9:00 a.m.

Whisked inside the office of Principal Ana Gonzalez, Potter meets with district board members and school representatives, including Superintendent Dr. Karen Gray.

Mayor Tom Potter is interviewed by a Parkrose High School student reporter – freshman Evan Huynh.

The first reporter to interview Potter is Evan Huynh, a freshman from Parkrose High School.

“I want to make sure our young people get the best education we can give them,” Potter tells Huynh. “This is my third school visit this week. I come out to let the schools know we’re supporting them. And, we’re also seeing how the school is doing, and looking for ways we can help.”

The Mayor added that his visits also bring the media out. “It’s good to have the public’s attention directed to the good things at your school.”

In his personable style, Potter then turns the tables and interviews the young reporter, asking, “You just graduated from this school – what could be improved?”

Huynh thinks for a moment, and says, “Adding a few more programs would be better. Many [school] programs are dedicated to drama and art, which are great. But a program for architecture or construction trades would be a good addition.”

For some reason, news reporters asked the mayor only about his new beard – not about his reasons for visiting schools during their first week in session.

Mayor quizzed about … his beard
Next in line was a reporter from radio KPAM/860. Surprisingly, he only questioned Potter about his newly-grown, but neatly-trimmed, facial hair.

Asked about the feedback he’s received about his beard, Potter says, “So far, the vote has been four people in favor, zero against. Because it is so new, it surprises me to see it when I look in the mirror. My wife likes it. In the polling [on my website at] people can say if I should keep it or shave it off.”

Then the reporter asks if his new whiskers mean he’ll run for office again; Potter replies good naturedly, “The facial hair isn’t like a reading of tea leaves indicating whether or not I’ll be running again [for Mayor]. The only thing the facial hair says is that I was on vacation for two weeks, and it was easier not to shave.”

Says visit supports Parkrose Education
When we take our turn, we choose to ask Potter why he is visiting schools.

“Thank you, David, I appreciate the question,” Potter says with a grin.

“Young people are my first priority. As Mayor, I want to make sure they have the opportunity to get the best education possible.

“In Parkrose, the district has worked hard to overcome financial and facility shortages. They’re doing a good job. I want to make sure the voters understand what is at stake. That is, the children are the future of our community.”

The school’s principal and student representatives share their concerns about the upcoming school year with Mayor Potter.

The Mayor and school entourage set off for a tour of the school. He’s guided by student ambassadors Marquese Hayes and Jessica Luckenbaugh.

“I’m really excited to start school,” says Luckenbaugh, entering as an eighth-grade student. “I like to learn here. I thought it is pretty cool the Mayor came to visit. I was really excited when I learned I would get to take him around to show the Mayor our school today.”

Eighth-grader Jessica Luckenbaugh and student ambassador Marquese Hayes give Portland Mayor Tom Potter a tour of the school. Neither student indicated any interest in the Mayor’s new growth of facial hair.

After the mayor completed his tour, Ana Gonzalez — starting her third day as principal of Parkrose Middle School, comments, “We really enjoyed his visit today. We appreciate the interest he shows in our school, its students, and his desire to see that our students do well as they go on into high school.”

Governor Ted Kulongoski visits Woodstock elementary school

Meriwether Lewis Elementary School principal Tim Lauer talks with Governor Ted Kulongoski on their way to visit a classroom.

Learning that Governor Ted Kulongoski was scheduled to visit Meriwether Lewis Elementary School at 10 a.m., we travel to the Woodstock neighborhood.

As the first to greet him, we ask Kulongoski why he is visiting this grade school.

Says school visits make job worthwhile
“It is the beginning of school. It’s always important, I think, that kids see this as a great time,” the governor tells us as we stride toward the school’s entrance.

“I’m always out here trying to promote education. This is where it all starts; these kids at this age. I saw them standing there [in the schoolyard] as I went by, waving. I thought it was great. I like it. It makes the job all worthwhile.”

Inside the school, Kulongoski is greeted by principal Tim Lauer, interim Portland Public Schools Superintendent Ed Schmidt, and Oregon State Representative Carolyn Tomei.

Walking in the hallway, Kulongoski asks Lauer to describe the demographics of the school’s neighborhood, and whether or not special education is available.

They turn into the Debra Swan’s second-grade classroom. The children are active and talkative until their teacher utters the “magic word” – Rumpelstiltskin. They fall silent.

Press conference with second-graders

Governor Ted Kulongoski holds a press conference with students of Debra Swan’s second grade class at Lewis Elementary.

After he takes off his jacket, and sits down with the youngsters, Governor Kulongoski talks with the class.

“Working for kids, I think it is one of the most important things I do,” the Governor begins. “I’m trying to help you in school here, so you can learn to do anything you want to do. Oregon needs you guys. That’s why I come here to talk to you: To tell you how important it is to be in school.”

“Are you happy you are the Governor of Oregon?” asks a second-grade girl sitting in the front row.

“I am more than happy,” Oregon’s governor replies. “This is the best job I’ve ever had. I love being the Governor of Oregon. There are days when it isn’t the best job. But I always like it. It is always fun.”

“Do you have any pets at your house?” asks a boy.

“Yes I do,” Kulongoski replies. “I have the ‘first dog’, named Hershey. She thinks she’s top dog – but I’m the top dog.”

Students supply governing suggestions

Hanna and Makalia show Kulongoski sentiments starting with “If I was Governor of Oregon …” shared by other Lewis Elementary School posted outside their classroom.

After reading a brief story to the class, Kulongoski is escorted to a wall outside the classroom, adorned with printed sentiments starting with “If I were Governor of Oregon …”

Kulongoski reads aloud, “If I were Governor of Oregon, no one would drink alcohol.” He pauses, smiles and remarks, “Oh, that’s an interesting one. Ah, I don’t know – actually, ah, that is a wonderful statement. Is there a temperance movement here at the school?”

The Governor says he agrees with a posted note stating, “If I were Governor of Oregon, I would make sure no child played with guns.”

“If I were Governor of Oregon, I would make sure no sharks would ever eat anybody.” Kulongoski remarks, “That shows quite an imagination.”

Kulongoski reads a several more, including “If I were Governor of Oregon, I’d keep people safe by not letting them speed through [red] lights”, and “If I were Governor of Oregon, I would make sure that all the schools were really good.”

Principal Tim Lauer, Governor Ted Kulongoski, interim superintendent of Portland Public Schools, Ed Schmidt and Oregon State Representative Carolyn Tomei strike a pose in front of the student-made welcome banner.

Says he’s pleased with recent legislation
Asked how state-level politics influence local education, Kulongoski responds, “For teachers, I think there is an attitudinal difference in their belief that the state legislature and governor actually understands the importance of education in children’s lives.”

“I think as much as it is tangible, there is the intangible aspect of this saying ‘this is important to us’, and we have to provide the resources for it. I think it was a good session in the legislature for education. I think you’ll see it play out in the attitudes of the school’s professional staff,” explained Kulongoski.

After the Governor left the school, Lewis principal Tim Lauer says he thinks it is an honor to be visited by the state’s highest ranking executive. “Kulongoski demonstrated a real interest in our school and students. We’re all happy he chose to come visit our school here in Woodstock.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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