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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.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

No protection: Toxic fallout shows where neighbors sit

I reported on another blog about the proposal by the city auditor and ombudsman to address barriers to Portlanders' ability to exercise their appeal rights, mainly by reducing fees to a nominal amount. In the rallying effort for the proposal there were frequent mentions to the highest fee of all, one that was over $1,300, an amount that not many of us can readily come up with (especially if nonrefundable).

That fee ($1,318 to be exact) is the newly instituted one that neighbors must pay to ask for an additional demolition delay if the subject house could be saved in some way. Since its institution in 1989, this delay has actually helped save some homes, and even after developers recently managed to halve the delay period, from 120 days to 60, it still can be a useful tool for neighborhoods hammered by the mounting costs of trash-and-build development.

City Council loved the proposal, citing the desire to offer all Portlanders, regardless of income, the right to an administrative appeal process. Watch the April 22 proceedings here, starting at 69:15.

At Minute 157 things get interesting with Commissioner Fritz, once a champion for neighborhoods, raising a red flag about whether the reduction in appeal fees would allow more neighbors to attempt to save homes in their neighborhoods, by requesting the additional demo delay for a nominal fee. There is blustering, there are crickets (161), there is wink-wink "Is there a public purpose in dissuading [citizens] from appealing a demolition permit?" (161:30). With "public" seemingly in the eyes of our leaders becoming more synonymous with "developer-driven," the answer would be yes based on what happened at the final vote.

On May 20, City Council unanimously approved the proposal, reducing all appeal fees citywide to a nominal amount—except for one. Guess which one? When asked, Ombudsman Margie Sollinger said the exception of the demo-delay fee (the highest charged by the city for any appeals process, then and now) was demanded by Commissioner Fritz. Never mind that the city seems intent on bungling all details of the new demo-delay rules discussed for close to a year now and instituted last month—neighbors get no relief. Even when well-meaning city staff such as the auditor and ombudsman try to bring justice within reach of all Portlanders, powerful interests will insert a significant exception that strives to keep business as usual, unfettered by those seeking to protect their neighborhoods.

Pictures of a demolition a few days ago in Northeast Portland show no one's in control, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which claims to enforce rules on protection for workers releasing uncontrolled hazmat in to the air and surrounding yards (click on last two pictures to verify lack of protection). Federal studies show demolition dust can travel up to 400 feet, or about the width of eight standard-size residential lots in Portland. Here Metro Homes Northwest clears the way for another particlebarn, endangering everyone and accountable to none.

Deconstruction would do a lot to solve many problems associated with mechanical demolition, if demolition must occur. This important issue heads to City Council this week, and deserves your study and support.

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