As part of its citizen outreach, the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission held one of its three hearings on the draft Portland Plan at Parkrose High School Community Center last month. Several local residents gave testimony on issues the Plan should address.
The Portland Plan will set policies to guide the creation of a new City Comprehensive Plan, replacing one enacted in 1980. This will set zoning and other regulations to guide both public activity and private development.
David Douglas School District Superintendent Don Grotting, and board member Annette Mattson, repeated a familiar theme in their testimony: the unchecked development of low-income housing in Mid-county is playing havoc with the area in general and schools in particular. Grotting called the Plan’s basic approach “comprehensive and realistic,” but added, “It’s critical that zoning for high density housing be proportionally distributed across all districts. Its concentration in David Douglas is inappropriate and unsustainable.” The action agendas of the Plan should be “carefully monitored and adjusted to achieve success.”
The problems are not limited to David Douglas, Grotting said. “Centennial does not have enough land set aside for their predicted future enrollment; Reynolds is spread over five municipalities; your numbers should accurately reflect the number of English language-learners among students. Many statistics do not accurately reflect this population because they do not include students identified as not proficient in English but who refuse to seek help for it,” he said.
Mattson said the city is facing “increasing racial and socioeconomic segregation,” as poor and minorities are concentrated in east Portland. “The result of current policy,” she went on, “has been the creation of high poverty neighborhoods, high poverty schools, high poverty school districts, and a disproportionate loss of property value in some areas. City investments and infrastructure have not followed the areas with the greatest population growth. East Portland has 16 percent of the city’s population, but has only two community centers. We need walking and biking facilities. Zone changes may be necessary to achieve our goals.”
Parkrose neighborhood activists Mary and Brian Walker had specific requests. Both called for the rezoning of Northeast Sandy Boulevard for strictly commercial activity. “It’s not suitable for a healthy family lifestyle, but is suitable for a business district,” Mary, longtime Parkrose Neighborhood Association chair, said. “It’s ripe for redevelopment. The red light has been turned out and the red carpet has been rolled out. This is a beautiful area; you can still see so many mountains, there’s still farmland, there’s so much to save!” She called for creation of a community center; indicating the school auditorium she said, “We have this fine facility here, but it doesn’t serve all our needs.”
Brian Walker seconded the need for zone changes and the need for more city services. Referring to earthquake preparedness he said, “Bike routes would make great emergency routes, and bikes don’t run out of gas. We have a lot of homeless kids. Moms and kids can get shelter, but families can’t.” He complained that bureaucratic requirements stifle business development, saying, “People in this neighborhood don’t have an extra $50,000 on top of what it takes to start a business.” He called for lights in Senn’s Dairy Park and added that community organizer “Christine Charnesky was working in the park by herself — it made a huge difference.” Walker added, “I hope you’re serious about doing what needs doing.”
Former Parkrose School District board member Katie Larsell said zone changes are “something we’ve been asking for, and would like explicitly stated” in the Plan. She also called for more public programs; after-school SUN (Multnomah County’s Schools Uniting Neighborhoods) School programs “should be where the need is greatest. Kids fall behind because they have to move so often. There should be a priority for improving parks in east Portland. We want to improve our neighborhoods without changing them so drastically we don’t recognize them.” She complained, “We don’t get the same attention as Portland Public Schools.”
In a rare moment of agreement, the Commission heard one of the city’s strongest alternative transit critics and one of its strongest local advocates arrive at the same conclusion. Terry Parker of the Rose City Park neighborhood, a frequent critic of bike improvements and streetcars, attacked the Plan’s call for “more transportation choices” as an attempt to “control the working class” that would result in “loss of family-wage jobs.” Failure to show how proposed improvements would be paid for is “like promoting a road map with no ability to pay for the roads,” Parker said.
Dave Hampsten of Hazelwood, a member of the East Portland Action Plan’s Transportation Committee, followed to say, “I have to agree with Terry Parker — the budget for bike programs is unsustainable.”
Transportation improvements are paid for, primarily, from gasoline taxes, and the city and state have been “so successful in getting people out of their cars that we have a shrinking budget. The goals are good, but a bit lofty. We need to figure out how to pay for them. We need a much broader community discussion.” Hampsten added that Mid-county needs sidewalks on local streets as well as arterials.
Commission member Chris Smith later said, “If we get anywhere near our Climate Action goals (of reducing auto use), we’ll wipe out our funding source. We need more revenue streams.”
The Commission heard from, and expressed its admiration for, a group of students who testified including several from Mid-county. Parkrose High School sophomore Max Denning is the Metro representative of the Oregon Association of Student Councils. He noted that 25 percent of the population of Multnomah County consists of young people. Getting them involved in the Portland Plan process and other public processes like it is “difficult, but it would make the plan more effective and passionate,” he said. “The best way to get youth involved is to give them a chance to do so,” he said. This would mean giving them a place at the table, and Denning noted that many school boards do this by allocating a seat to a student member.
Marius Ibuye, now studying at Portland Community College and Yout Planner for the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, took issue with a plan goal of 95 to 100 percent high school graduation rates. “I would love to see our graduation rate be up there, but is it possible?” he asked. “You need to ask why students are not graduating, and it’s because the system is not adapting to our experiences.” Ibuye nearly did not graduate on time, he said, because he had trouble having the credits he earned in another vountry applied to his school record here; “I had to advocate for myself,” he said. He added that in government processes, “Youth need to be involved from the beginning.”
Ana Meza, a David Douglas senior, said that physical health could not be assured by providing access to healthy food alone. The school system requires only 1.5 semesters of Physical Education classes, “and to be honest, that’s the only exercise we get. There need to be incentives for us to get out of the house and meet other youth,” with the goal of promoting “physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual health.” Regarding sex education, Meza said her course was “full of Power Points and boring lectures.”
Sumitra Chhetri, another David Douglas student, also a BPS Youth Planner, said this work has allowed her to “relate to other youth from all over the city.” More parks and park programs “could have a lasting effect on youth violence,” she said. Portland Plan goals for youth are “only as powerful as the institution that supports them,” she said.
The Plan divides the City into 24 commercial “hubs” for its analysis. Mid-county is divided into the Lents-Foster, Parkrose-Argay, Gateway, 122nd and Division, Centennial-Glenfair-Wilkes, and Pleasant Valley hubs.
Commission member Don Hanson said, “It’s so important we’re physically here. The outer eastside has been the stepchild of Portland. These kinds of activities help to mend that. I hope the Plan can mend not just the physical problems but the social ones.”
This hearing was one of three scheduled for November. The deadline for written comments was originally November 30. In response to complaints from neighborhood groups that they did not have adequate time to discuss the documents and respond, the city has extended this deadline to Dec. 28. Mail your comments to Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, The Portland Plan, 1900 S.W. Fourth Ave., Suite 7100, Portland, 97201. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line Portland Plan Testimony. The Portland Plan is also downloadable at pdxplan.com.