Powellhurst-Gilbert neighbors grill Commissioner Adams

At this well-attended neighborhood association meeting, learn how Sam Adams responded, when folks demanded answers …

As Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams stood up to talk, he listens as he’s immediately faced strong objection to his Streetcar Initiative.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The room in which the November Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association took place was comfortably full as Jack Vahey, the organization’s vice chair (and newly-elected chair), got the meeting underway.

Awaiting the arrival of their featured speaker, Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams, Vahey made neighborhood announcements and introduced the new slate of officers — Vice Chair Elaine Medcalf, Treasurer Patty Hall, and Mary Walker and Richard Walker serving as members at large.

Adams greeted with strong streetcar plan objection
Immediately after his introduction by Vahey, a neighbor voiced her objection to Commissioner Adams about a plan to build streetcar lines in Portland.

“As it is, they can’t police the transit system now, they can’t properly fund busses, and aren’t widening SE Powell St. and SE Foster St. to improve traffic [flow]”

Adams drew a breath, paused and responded, “This hasn’t been put to a vote. Instead of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to streetcars, why not join the conversation?

“The point of the conversation is thinking ahead. It is deciding what kind of transportation we want to have in Portland in the next 20 to 30 years as Portland grows. Many neighborhoods have said they would welcome streetcar lines. I encourage you to show up to the meetings and participate in the conversation.”

Showing a map of the main neighborhood corridors, Adams continued, “Before we even consider putting a streetcar in a neighborhood, we want to make sure there are potential riders, there is the potential for redevelopment, and that the community in the area wants it.”

The reason for looking at transportation options, Adams added, is to meet the challenge of moving nearly million people who will live in the greater Portland area within 20 years.

Adams listens to neighbors’ concerns about crime on the MAX lines.

Transit crime a major concern
The question, “Does anybody here feel safe raiding MAX at night?” posed by one neighbor resonated with several others at the meeting.

Adams acknowledged that crime on MAX “is a real issue and will be addressed. Along with TriMet, [the City of Portland] is putting up additional resources to combat crime.”

Read more about the Neighborhood Streetcar proposal by CLICKING HERE.

Powell Blvd. concerns aired
As Adams moved into his presentation pitching his “Safe & Sound Streets” plan, committee member and Powellhurst-Gilbert neighbor Jim Chasse asked what could be done to improve outer Powell Blvd. “Since the 2003 Foster/Powell Corridor study, nothing has been done to tackle the transportation issues that come from continuing development, and increased traffic from Happy Valley.”

Neighbors agreed that improving this street – it becomes a narrow two-lane road east of I-205 – is the area’s most pressing problem.

Adams responded, “Powell is a State highway. It is a challenge to get them [the State] to step up and take charge of the problem.”

With the aid of maps, diagrams and statistic sheets in hand, Adams pitches the “Safe & Sound Street” program to Powellhurst-Gilbert neighbors.

Pitches ‘Safe & Sound Streets’ plan
“I’m here to talk about Safe & Sound Streets,” Adams continued.

“I’m here to talk about a new fee to fund the program. Why would a politician, running for office, be proposing a new fee?” Adams asked rhetorically. “Because, it would be irresponsible not to raise the issue.”

Adams detailed the reasons Portland area roads, streets, and highways are in a poor state of repair, and the city’s proposed revenue sources to fix them.

(To read about “Safe & Sound Streets” in detail, CLICK HERE)

After Adams’ presentation, a neighbor opined, “The work out east of I-205 looks light on improvements. You’re asking us to pay for improvements – like the new Hawthorne sidewalks. There is a huge of outer East Portland residents who pay more taxes than others. You may get resistance from those people.”

The commissioner responded, “Equity is a sensitive issue to me. It is difficult but we’re working hard to get it right. East Portland is getting a large share of the funding.”

Adams points out issues of interest to outer East Portland residents.

Other outer East Portland issues discussed
Adams talked briefly about the System Development Charges being considered to benefit city parks. “Dan Saltzman’s office is working on this. To this point, there hasn’t been a charge on commercial construction or expansion. As a ‘park-deficient’ area of the city, these new fees to build and improve parks would benefit your neighborhoods.”

Regarding the building of a water treatment plant on Powell Butte, Adams said, “We fought the federal government on this. I agree with [Portland City Commissioner Randy] Leonard, we have best drinking water in the world. But, the federal government has a one-regulation-fits-all approach to municipal water supplies, regarding treatment for cryptosporidium filtration. The City fought it in court, and we got slapped down hard. The system required will cost the City about $300,000.”

Adams didn’t have a suggestion for a neighbor who complained about the problems brought about by high-density housing.

“All summer, we’ve had roving gangs of kids. Their parents kick them out of the house in the daytime – and they get in trouble. Many of these kids live in the dense housing developments. Our neighborhood is going downhill fast; people are selling their homes all along my street.”

The neighbor said he’d been in constant contact with police who came out, but told him, because there’s no “juvenile hall” to which to take delinquents, there isn’t much they could do.

“Glad you’ve contacted the authorities,” Adams replied. “The earlier you get on problems, the more easily you can nip it in the bud.  I don’t know what it takes to get a Juvenile Hall, but it is an interesting idea.”

When his time was up, Adams thanked the neighbors for participating, and was sent off with a hearty round of applause.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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