‘East Portland Action Plan’ engenders cautious optimism among participants

Can yet another City-sponsored committee improve livability in outer East Portland? You’ll see what some of the participants think … right here …

The David Douglas School District boardroom is nearly filled with delegates and observers, as the East Portland Action Plan Committee holds its first meeting.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The East Portland Action Plan Committee, a project co-sponsored by Multnomah County and the City of Portland, has held its first meeting earlier this month.

“This effort is designed to look strategically at near-term opportunities to improve livability, as well as long-term strategies to address issues in East Portland, generally east of I-205,” said the organizer, also East Portland Liaison for the Portland Planning Bureau, Barry Manning. “The committee includes a mix of elected officials, agency representatives, and eighteen community members working together on problem-solving and improvement strategies in East Portland.”

Governmental officials on hand who participated included Portland Mayor Tom Potter, Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler, and State Representative Jeff Merkley, Portland City Commissioner Erik Sten; METRO Counselor Robert Liberty audited the meeting.

In addition to elected officials and governmental staff members, eighteen members from the business, faith, education and neighborhood communities also been appointed to participate in the forum.

Looks to identify livability solutions
Manning stated that some of the anticipated outcomes of the East Portland Action Plan include:

  • Validation of high priority livability issues in East Portland;
  • Direction to initiate near-term actions that can be accomplished within one to two years;
  • Identification of longer-term actions to be implemented through respective agency work plans; and,
  • Commitment to follow through.

Struggling to deal with increased density
As once run-down parts of the city have gentrified, the City’s less affluent have been forced to migrate to outlying areas in outer East Portland.

As neighborhoods continue to change due to ever-increasing density, many citizens have expressed concern about reduced quality of life in their outer East Portland neighborhoods. Along with higher-density housing crowding once semi-rural areas has come increased crime and the lack of services, infrastructure, and amenities, to serve the burgeoning population.

Issues identified and potential actions
After two hours of roundtable discussions, the panel members had developed a list of concerns that include:

  • Schools, Families, Housing: Develop a partnership and specific strategies with school districts serving East Portland to address school facilities issues.
  • Community Safety: Develop partnerships to intensify the city’s public safety and social services responses.
  • Community Organizing: Develop and fund methods to improve public participation, and broaden the base of community involvement in East Portland.
  • Transportation Needs: Refine transportation priorities for East Portland, and explore budget proposals necessary to fund them.
  • Land Use Planning: Explore and implement land use code changes to address infill development issues and lay the groundwork for longer range planning.
  • Business Enhancement: Identify strategies for improving the business climate in East Portland, focusing on specific strategies for different areas.

Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler and Portland city Commissioner Erik Sten say they’re in agreement with the goals of the project.

Officials pledge help
Portland Commissioner Erik Sten said he’s pleased with the project, and very pleased with the large turnout of committee members and the public in general to the December 1 meeting. Sten pledged to find City funding to help out with the project.

Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler also commended the committee, the meeting, and the progress; but said he couldn’t offer financial support, citing the County’s tight budget.

“We want to see something immediate happen like you folks do,” summarized Portland Mayor Tom Potter. “We’re going to work to make sure some of these needs are met. All the assets of the cities, like our bureaus, will provide technical support, so you aren’t left stranded. We believe in this process. Rather than just take our word for it, wait and see what happens.”

Eighteen community members, along with governmental officials, say they’re working to solve some of outer East Portland’s most pressing issues.

Cautious optimism noted among participants
Judith Huck, owner of Classique Floors, told us, “I think the City and area agencies are looking to East Portland to see what we really need. They’re listening to us to see what really needs to be done out here. We’re struggling out here.”

Asked if she thinks this will provide concrete results, Huck smiled and said sincerely, “I have great hope.”

Opportunity to make a difference
Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, Superintendent, Parkrose Public Schools, commented, “The meeting was an excellent way for all of the super-stakeholder groups to get together and focus on East County planning. Everybody, to an extent, is on the same page about economic development, overdevelopment of housing, educational needs. This is a real opportunity for people to make a difference.”

Expresses concerns about housing
Hazelwood Neighborhood Chair Arlene Kimura said, about the meeting, “This is a very good first step. If we can do at least a portion of the things we set out to do – those are going to be big, giant steps. I do hope we can come up some critically-needed first-action items. That will demonstrate the sincerity of this effort. It will show it isn’t just a bunch of people sitting around the table.”

Asked for what she most hopes will come from this program, Kimura replied, “To really look at where they’re clustering the housing in relation to where the services are located. Changing our land use patterns and popping into housing in the middle of neighborhoods is not helpful. We’ve got to look at neighborhoods as a whole, and not just as housing developments.

I know people need housing, but we have to temper that with the fact that people have to be able to live and get around their neighborhood.”

Interested in transportation and education
Speaking for himself, James Chasse a board member of Board of Powellhurst Gilbert Neighborhood Association and land use chair, summarized his feelings: “It’s about time. It is a great opportunity for people in East Portland to be involved and hopefully see some action taken in the community to address some of the issues that have come up in the last ten years.”

Chasse added that his greatest concerns for outer East Portland are transportation-related issues and overcrowded schools.

Endorses new process
Brian Heron, Pastor, Eastminster Presbyterian Church, and with the Foster Family Care Network, said it is good for the community to envision a new process for dealing with issues in outer East Portland.

“The best part of the meeting,” stated Heron, “is the fact that so many people, from so many walks of life, are here representing the community. It’s not so much what has come out if it today, but the fact that we we’re all together in the same room. We’re ready to talk. The concept that stood out for me was building community. The community is so diverse; and at the same time, we’re dealing with diverse issues like poverty, and broken families, and lack of stability.”

Ethnic diversity a concern
Mike Vander Veen, Ministries Coordinator at Parklane Christian Reformed Church, agreed with Heron, but added, “And yet, there is a certain lack of diversity here today. There are a lot of white faces at the table. Even though we’re all coming from different perspectives, I saw limited participation of people of color. I’d like to see more ethnic inclusion. It was great we had a member of the Slavic community here. Diversity in the community was a value many people shared.”

Vander Veen added that he’s most concerned about finding was to protect our outer East Portland educational system. “In eastside schools, we still have music, arts, and PE, in addition to good quality academics. But it looks like education may be at risk. Its important! Children are the future of our community.”

East Portland Liaison in the Portland Planning Bureau Barry Manning, and METRO Counselor Robert Liberty, listen and respond to comments made at the meeting.

METRO Commissioner Robert Liberty told us after the meeting, “The most important thing was that this meeting was held. Next important thing was to see who came from the community and government. It is great.”

While Liberty characterized some of the data as being “a little daunting and disturbing”, he added that, from METRO’s perspective, this is perfect timing. “We’re talking about how to implement Plan 2040, we’re looking at investments. I think we need to look for answers to questions about where people of modest means can find a place to live in the region. It isn’t just an eastside phenomenon.”

More meetings to come
The committee is scheduled to meet monthly through June 2008.

The next meeting of the East Portland Action Plan Committee is scheduled for January 10, 2008, 6:00 to 8:00 PM, location to be announced.  Contact the Bureau of Planning at 503-823-7965 for more information.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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