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Formerly the home of Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth, the Portland Land Matters blog explores citywide land-use concerns, such as home demolitions, with the belief that development should create an improvement.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Stumped by Stumptown? Join the club

Our increasingly schizophrenic city leadership ("let's start a $20 million affordable housing program!"—let's stand idly by while hundreds of affordable homes get tossed in the trash; "let's commission a parking study!"—let's never mind the results of the parking study; "recycle and compost everyone!"—just dump homes and their quality materials in the landfill) now sends out to neighborhood association meetings an emissary from the city's Urban Forestry program to talk up the value of trees, and why we should care for them and plant more.

The irony screams loud as a chain saw. The record-setting number of demolitions this year—Portland broke the record last year, too—comes with innumerable tree deaths. Those mondo houses only fit one way on a lot, and tree protection costs money, involves work, and takes creativity during construction. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of developers plying Portland are too lazy and profit-minded to care. Prolific developers Wally and Vic Remmers practically are running a logging operation up in Concordia while trashing houses there. By now they probably could load a barge for export.

Where DRAC members get to sit.

Meanwhile, the city-anointed, developer-centric Developer Review Advisory Committee stumbles along at the full committee and subcommittee levels, tasked with weighty issues outside its job description. I almost feel sorry for it. As word gets out about the meetings, more activists come. At the last DRAC subcommittee meeting, we the disenfranchised ran out of chairs pushed up against the wall of the room and had to sit on the floor. Hopefully, some neighbors made it to the Thursday meeting of the full committee; after all, someone needs to guffaw loudly when city staff throw out unsupported "facts" such as: "9 out of 10 people want these houses demolished anyway."

Where those affected by DRAC decisions get to sit.

Ever notice how all the DRAC meetings run from 8 to 9:30 a.m. or 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. when full-time parents and weekday workers are least able to attend? Who else is available? Is it any wonder that the less affluent neighborhoods can't afford to send a representative downtown to sit for two hours and make sure neighbor voices are heard—that is, if they catch the moderator's eye, and if time allows after the developers have their say.

Speaking of developers, one at the meeting last week (and head of DRAC) confessed he didn't build starter homes anymore because he couldn't reap enough profit. Then he had the temerity to go on about how additional fees in permitting, etc., would price the resulting home out of reach of the droves of wannabe home buyers. About half of us on the wall pointed out that had he left the starter home intact, it would have been accessible to those buyers. Why o why can't developers build where the city needs more development, and/or where there are vacant lots, instead of tearing down perfectly good housing stock to erect palaces made of little better than particle board?

United Neighborhoods for Reform is fine-tuning a resolution to take to the neighborhoods and City Council to protect the unique, affordable housing that remains. We will need voices and votes at the grass-roots level, and the support shown for the effort all along, to keep this big ball rolling. As Will Rogers said, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." DRAC and its developer recommendations are right behind us.

There's still time to comment on the Comp Plan. For starters, ask why "neighborhood association" was deleted. For years, the city said neighborhood associations were the only way to communicate with staff. Now that we're involved, they want to remove the groups' influence entirely? For a city that used to pride itself on activism (see, for example, Tom McCall Waterfront Park—born of protest, now a city jewel), how the mighty have fallen. 

A final note about the trees. City staff kept saying that the new tree policy coming in January 2015 was going to solve all the problems—just as the Comp Plan was touted forever as the coming manna from heaven. Boy, is it hard to get a hold of that tree plan, and now we know why. Turns out the new tree policy doesn't apply to the zones where most of the deforestation is occurring. Schizophrenic may be too mild a word for the city's behavior. In future elections, let clarity, sanity, and common sense win out.

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