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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.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Gag order silences public's voice in public policy

After pressure from the city's ombudsman office, DRAC's
demolition subcommittee now allows the public to attend
meetings where it decides public policy (even though it is
 not part of its stated mission). The hitch:
You can come, but you can't say anything.
Mostly it's a drag attending DRAC meetings (and I know of at least one member who would agree) but every once in a while an amusing nugget surfaces. For instance, from the minutes for the Feb. 19 meeting of the Development Review Advisory Committee (or DRAC), 
  • "Kurt Krueger said that there is an assumption in the community that projects in general are built without enough (or any) review, and this is inaccurate."
At least two state Land Use Board of Appeals cases were brought (and paid for) by neighbors that did find city code was not followed and developers' noncompliance with code (the short film that chronicles those efforts is here). These LUBA rulings have shown that planners do miss items in permitting that have to be removed from the project. 

If it is up to neighbors to perform quality control on permitted projects, then how much faith would we have in the process that gave them a nod in the first place. What about all the projects that weren't appealed? What about the neighbors who did not have the fundraising acumen or organizational ability to bring an appeal? 

Meanwhile, the DRAC subcommittee tasked with the serious matter of hazmat control during demolitions is working hard to come up with another voluntary program. Sound familiar? It devised similar voluntary measures after months of dickering on demo notifications, only to have two huge City Council sessions and months more of negotiating to put teeth to the program and finally get lukewarm measures into code. What a waste of everyone's time this DRAC stuff is—no wonder it has attendance problems by its members.

In introducing that voluntary hazmat-control program, the latest DRAC minutes from the March 19 meeting are careful to point out:

"There is buy-in from the Home Builders Association, and it will protect neighbors from hazardous materials."

Note how much more important it was to get approval from the developers rather than the local people actually being exposed to the lead and asbestos. Note, too, the patronizing assurance of "protect[ion]" for this strictly voluntary program. It's how the profiteers love it: No certification, no accountability, no guarantee of safe disposal of hazardous materials known to cause irreparable damage. No protective measures to apply on the way to yet more fat profits, taken at the expense of neighborhoods and public safety.

As for Commissioner Fritz, who's in charge of the Bureau of Development Services, she has said that neighbors should simply close their windows when demos occur. And we would add that for those residents who leave their home quarantines if they are within 400 feet of a demo site (the distance that the feds have shown the hazmat travels)—Don't inhale.

A rare example of a well-designed, -built, and -scaled building
goes up at Northeast 24th and Fremont. Why is this more of an
exception than the norm in Portland's development scene?
Finally, DRAC seems so bothered by outsiders' attendance at its public meetings that last month it released this protocol. In it, one housekeeping item says that minutes will be posted within seven days of the meetings. But it took weeks, maybe months, for minutes to appear from all the demolition subcommittee meetings that have occurred until now. None appear for the meeting that occurred mid-March (update: they posted today, after I published this). The delays in publishing minutes of meetings where public policy is decided make it hard for the public to engage or respond if it cannot learn about what DRAC is doing.

Again, DRAC—and its overarching Bureau of Development Services—decide what rules you and I have to follow, and what rules they (and their customers) don't. If DRAC doesn't supply minutes as it's supposed to, I think we should bring volleyballs to the meetings.

We still await evidence that DRAC is the "good public process" that defenders claim it is.

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