A couple of late-May and mid-June meetings saw some of Portland’s elected officials apprised of citizen opinion on a proposed road maintenance fee, and city bureaucrats looped into public opinion on infill demolition and rebuilding. In one case, airing concerns resulted in a delayed City Council vote; in the other, neighbors asked for changes in City demolition and building permit regulations.
Residents and business owners packed City Council chambers Thursday afternoon, May 29, to make City Commissioners aware of their thinking on the road repair fee. Before public testimony, Mayor Charlie Hales and Public Safety Commissioner Steve Novick explained reasons for proposing the fee. Citizens heard reasons the funding pie should be enlarged to keep half of Portland’s 5,000 miles of streets at standard, safe levels and why waiting was not an option.
After almost two hours of methodical, logical arguments, Commissioners heard sufficient public push-back in two-minute segments to delay a vote on imposing the fee until after the summer.
On Wednesday, June 11 at Concordia University in Northeast Portland, a crowd of almost 200 people turned out for an evening briefing from a “Panel of Experts.” Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) director Amalia Alarcón de Morris moderated the first part of the session, a tightly scripted question-and-answer session between Alarcón de Morris and five experts followed by questions from the audience the ONI director read from index cards. Spontaneous and follow-up questions were not permitted during the first two hours of the meeting. Instead, residents were told to meet individually with the experts they wished to question.
From the informational session, it was noted that demolition of perfectly good housing in neighborhoods and replacement by one or more new houses is feasible economically because there are buyers. The frequency of this practice has increased during the past two years and is mostly located in North, Northeast, East and Southeast Portland.
Beaumont-Wilshire Neighborhood Association’s general meeting on June 9 voted to approve a resolution for discussion by other neighborhood associations and, eventually, to be sent to the City Council. Neighbors resolved to request a change in permitting regulations to protect architecture that preserves the character of a neighborhood. Neighbors asserted demolition and infill construction is contributing to a lack of affordable neighborhood housing for young families. It was also suggested that government support of demolition might result from the higher taxes received. The discussion is expected to continue in the coming months.