What's happening now

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.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Serious matters call for serious action

A single image shows all that's wrong with
current Portland planning/permitting. Photo by Fred Lifton.
The best news I heard this week is that David Mullens, one of the right-hand men in the Sackhoff-Remmers juggernaut that rules Portland's trash-and-build-to-the-max construction scene, said the new guidelines proposed for the city's Mixed Use districts are so onerous he and other developers just may pull out of Portland.

Please do!

If a business model is predicated on the destruction of well-established neighborhoods full of open space, mature trees, and unique well-built homes, then perhaps Portland no longer is the fertile ground for profits that it once was.

Even the commissioner in charge of the Bureau of Development Services, Amanda Fritz, seems to be having misgivings about the homogenization and humongous-ization overtaking the city's built landscape. Not coincidentally, she's launching a reelection campaign, ironically trying to woo back the neighbor base that got her into office in the first place. With this latest move, she's fooled some people with her late plea on behalf of Portland neighborhoods, but not those long appalled at her years-long BDS-can-do-no-wrong stance and defense of nonconforming and noncontributing projects.

Suddenly Commissioner Amanda Fritz (middle) says she cares
about neighborhoods, per a recent Oregonian story. But at
City Hall on Feb. 12 she was adamantly opposed to
effective hazmat control during demolitions (start watching
at 75:28 here to hear/see for yourself).
She's not the only one having a credibility crisis. The entire City Council also veers toward one when it goes along with an idea to give the serious measures of hazmat control during demolitions and mandating deconstruction (if demolition must occur) to the folks who help perpetrate it: the Development Review Advisory Committee, or DRAC. DRAC hasn't bothered to follow Oregon's Public Meetings Law, fill vacancies on its board that would add more diverse voices, or keep its paperwork up to date, as it is supposedly required to do. With such lack of transparency, accountability, and equity, it is not the right body to decide far-reaching policy—and, to be fair, it's not part of its stated mission to do so.

By the way, when sifting through the DRAC minutes that are available, I was amused by the following explanation for how BDS deals with complaints, as explained by bureau director Paul Scarlett:
"Mr. Scarlett said that because BDS wasn't able to respond to a lot of complaints during and after the recession, people stopped calling to complain."
Next time a BDS staffer talks about a "complaint-driven system" for construction-practices accountability, you'll know why they smile.

When the Exxon Valdez spilled its cargo, no one asked Exxon how best to clean it up. Giving DRAC, many of whose members represent the very folks poisoning our neighborhoods' air and properties, the ability to regulate lead and asbestos fallout from demolitions smacks of folly and lack of commitment to fixing the problem. Anyone who gardens, eats what they grow, or has children should care very much about the demolitions occurring within 400 feet (the width of about eight standard-size yards) of where they live—that's how far the asbestos and lead particles have been shown to travel.

If City Council was serious about public safety and environmental responsibility, then hazmat control and deconstruction deserve better scrutiny by a wider variety of stakeholders, and positive impartial action. Now.

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