Commissioner Adams pitches budget proposals in Parkrose

Giving a novel twist to the City of Portland’s budgeting process, Commissioner Sam Adams talked with outer East Portland folks BEFORE the budget was set. Read this, and you’ll discover what he learned ¶

Saying he wanted to hear directly from outer East Portland citizens, Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams lets folks at the Parkrose forum speak their minds about roads, sewers, and the arts.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Most Portlanders complain that their government officials only listen to them after key decisions – like budgeting – have been made.

Not so with Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams.

Before the meeting, he told East Portland News Service, “I came here before I put together the budgets for the bureaus I oversee. The best time to get comment is before the budgets are finished, don’t you think?”

Folks from all over outer East Portland–about 60 in all–filled the Parkrose High School Community Room on January 4. Attendees identified themselves as being from the Parkrose, Argay, Hazelwood, Wilkes Community Group, Pleasant Valley, Lents, and Russell neighborhoods.

Meeting first of its kind
“As far as I know,” Adams began, “there hasn’t been a meeting like this held before. Outer East Portland is the newest part of the city. Many people here feel it has been treated with inequitably. I’m from North Portland, and I can tell you that people there don’t feel they’re getting fair share, either.”

Before the road, sewer and arts bureau chiefs made their presentation; Adams called for questions related to their services.

Show on the road(s)
After questions regarding transportation issues were recorded, Sue Keil, Director of Portland Office of Transportation, (PDOT) began her presentation. She detailed sources of the bureau’s revenues ‚Äì gas taxes and parking meter revenue. Then, Keil outlined projects being looked at for outer East Portland.

Sam Adams and PDOT’s Sue Keil take questions before talking about specific highway safety projects being considered for outer East Portland.

“Some of the most dangerous intersections are out here,” Keil told the audience. She said, statistically, the most deadly are at SE 96th Ave. at Foster Rd., SE Stark St. at 102nd Ave. and NE Glisan at the I-205 interchange.

“We’re considering installing ‘red-light cameras’. They don’t typically reduce the number of accidents. But they reduce the severity; especially for pedestrians,” Keil explained.

In all, PDOT plans to spend $250,000 to improve six outer East Portland intersections and roads.

Answering those who asked why more streets aren’t being paved and sidewalks installed, Adams told the group that PDOT prioritized available funds, focusing on the most dangerous intersections and roadways first. “Before now, the City Council has never invested this amount of money in intersections.”

Down the drain —  or not — in outer East Portland
“We take care of everything that falls out of the sky, or gets flushed drown the drain,” is how Bureau of Environmental Services manager Dean Marriott described his department’s responsibility. “We have an operating budget of almost $100 million per year. Most of the cost goes into operating our two waste water plants and 95 pumping stations located throughout Portland.”

Portland Bureau of Environmental Services manager Dean Marriott explains his agency’s budget.

Many questions posed regarded why outer East Portland residents were forced to pay “storm water remediation” charges when their rainwater runoff never enters the sewer system. “We paid to have our sewers installed; why don’t people in old Portland have to pay to fix theirs?” a neighbor asked.

Adams responded that the city chose to operate as single sewer agency. “There are benefits of economy over time.”

Adams went on to explain that there are 9,000 rainwater injection systems, known as “sumps”, all across the city. He added that federal regulators are concerned that the city sumps aren’t protecting groundwater from polluted rain runoff.

Pressed for details, Adams explained, “We’re retrofitting some sumps to catch brake dust, asbestos, and oils from vehicles. When you filter a sump, you have to maintain it. A sedimentation trap collects the dirt, keeping it out of the sump; and the groundwater.”

The bottom line is, Adams stated, that if all of outer East Portland’s sumps have to be retrofitted to meet federal government standards the cost will be borne by all residents across the city.

Adams listens to a forum participant as he expresses his concern about sewer costs in outer East Portland.

Marriott said East Portland initiatives to be funded include protecting wellheads, installing “green streets” program as streets are improved, sewer improvements along SE 92nd Ave. and Powell Blvd., the Lents sewer extension, and an extensive project along Johnson Creek.

“How many times have you seen Johnson Creek flood this year?” Adams asked. “It hasn’t. The BES has recreated the creek watershed.”

Marriott added, “We can’t keep Johnson Creek from flooding, but we’ve worked hard to reduce flooding. And, with the help of a $3 million grant from FEMA, we can do more.”

Arts and Culture in East Portland
Eloise Damrosch, Executive Director of the Regional Arts & Culture Council, started her presentation by asking, “What would it be like if there weren’t arts in the parks and schools?”

Regional Arts & Culture Council executive director Eloise Damrosch listens to a neighbor’s concern about arts spending in East Portland.

Damrosch explained how the RACC advocates for state and federal funding, distributes information about project, art jobs and programs, and gives out grants for art projects.

A handout provided by Damrosch detailed sixteen grants for East Portland projects. Sadly, listings for “Public Art in East Portland” detailed only five projects, some of them more than a decade old.

Adams’ analysis
After letting the commissioner and his staff have a few days to digest the information gleaned from Parkrose forum, we contacted Adams to find what he, and his bureau directors, learned.

About PDOT, the commissioner commented, “The residents of East Portland share my concern about the safety of the roads that they and their families travel on. I was pleased we recognized some of the same critical intersections; but most importantly I was glad to see that so many neighbors were engaged in the process, and that they care about their neighborhoods enough to advocate for safe streets and improvement of our transportation assets.”

Asked his thoughts regarding BES, Adams told us, “The city has a lot of work to do to repair the hurt feelings in the wake of decade-old decisions about sewer services out in East Portland. Many residents east of 82nd Ave. don’t feel they were given a fair shake when they were annexed into Portland and our sewer system. It is important that elected officials like me are out in the community being held accountable for the decisions that we make that affect the lives of our residents. I was pleased that people care about storm water management, and could hear that joining the system is better for the whole.

We asked Adams, “What is the most important feedback you gained from attendees regarding the RACC budget and programs?”

Adams responded, “We need to get information out into the communities about grant opportunities, so all of our lives can be enriched by art and culture. A society that fails to invest in its arts is a culture fails to invest in its future. I hear clearly that there is more opportunity for RACC to make a difference in East Portland.”

Commissioner Sam Adams talks with a neighbor at his Budget Forum held in Parkrose.

Overall, we asked, what specific effect will this meeting have on the budget process?

“We’ll take the specific ideas and concerns proposed by residents, and try to decide which projects deserve the most review and attention, and how we can work them into our budget. Obviously, we will have to address sewer rates, as a specific big issue coming out of this meeting, when it comes to budget hearings.”

Finally, we asked the Commissioner how he feels about the outcomes of the Parkrose meeting:

“I feel good about a few things coming out of this meeting. I was glad to see so many residents attend. The strong turnout affirmed for me that these town hall meetings are a good means by which to get the community together.

“Also, I was heartened to learn that neighborhood safety was such a key issue for community members. I feel so strongly about resident safety. I’m glad I was able to convey my dedication to work with this community in making it as safe as we can.”

¬© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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