The East Portland de-annexation Secession group uses this map created by the city’s East Portland Neighborhood Office to illustrate the area it wants to de-annex. COURTESY EPNO

The East Portland de-annexation Secession group uses this map created by the city’s East Portland Neighborhood Office to illustrate the area it wants to de-annex.

Stymied in their first attempt to de-annex a significant portion of the city of Portland, three east Portland citizens have vowed to rewrite their recently rejected petition, reformat the demand into an initiative petition, and gather the 31,345 signatures needed to land it on the November 2016 ballot.

The target area, roughly from the Columbia River to the edge of Happy Valley, west to just above Lents, and from Northeast 82nd Avenue to the Gresham city limits, has long experienced difficulties getting services from the city, since its annexation in the early 1980s.

Acting for East Portland de-Annexation Secession, members Collene Swenson, Pat Edwards and Brian Garry prepared a petition for the Office of the City Auditor to grant the target area permission to secede from the city of Portland, with the goal of forming an independent municipality within the de-annexed boundaries.

Swenson hand-delivered the petition to city elections officer Deborah Scroggins. Swenson and Edwards, active in the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association, (Anthony Macuk, Willamette Week) affirm support from a significant portion of the area’s citizens, and have expressed confidence they will be able to gather the needed signatures to place their initiative on the ballot.

In a letter to the three petitioners (posted on the group’s Facebook site), Scroggins informed them that the petition in its preliminary form would not be appropriate to forward for action. She cited state statute ORS 250.270 and Portland city Code Section 2.04.055 as legal reasoning for rejecting the petition. She further stated, “your filing represents an unsolved question of State law as to whether withdrawal may be the citizen initiative, given the statutory scheme for amending the boundaries of a city within a Metropolitan Service District.” She further informed the petitioners that their document was “fundamentally flawed” and needed to be re-written.

Basic services to the targeted east side area have been at issue since its annexation in the 1980s. City Share, a spending option for Portland neighborhoods, has remitted less to this area than any other part of the city, according to Swenson. “City representatives won’t come and talk to us about these problems,” she says.

Residents have long complained city officials hardly seem to know these 13 neighborhoods exist. Potholes, sinkholes, unpaved streets and absence of sidewalks are only the most noticeable surface problems the city has not addressed. Every neighborhood, Swenson says, has the same problems with crime, including unmonitored sex offenders. Likewise, the level drug dealing has risen since annexation, yet only two officers out of the East Portland Precinct consistently service the area. That precinct office is closed on weekends.

Most sewage treatment before annexation was through septic tanks. The EPA leaned on Portland officials to require property owners in the newly annexed area to switch over to sewer systems, which increased their tax and maintenance expenses. Residents insisted the septic tanks worked, but their objections were largely ignored, in part because of EPA pressures on the city.

The current action is not the first effort of residents of the neighborhood cluster, known as Mid-county before annexation, to form its own municipality separate from Portland. In the early 1980s, a citizen group proposed to create Columbia Ridge, a planned suburb and industrial area. Two hundred acres near the current Airport Way were to be included, but, in 1981, Portland annexed this acreage, depriving the potential of Columbia Ridge of economic growth, tax income and stability. The project eventually died.

When Portland annexed Mid-county in 1983, basic services were promised, but citizens of the area are still waiting. Complaints go unanswered and requests disappear. Only candidates for elected office seem to show an interest in east Portland’s problems, and hope rises, only to be dashed again after politicians get elected.

Another issue raised by this secessionist movement is the long-standing objection by a significant citizen population to the current “at large” structure of Portland’s Mayor/Council governing body. Portland is one of the only larger urban centers still under the administration of this type of structure.

Council members are not elected from specific, geographic areas, but are simply elected at large from the entire city. Every council member could be elected from one Southwest Portland neighborhood. It isn’t happening this way, and given the independent reputation of Portland voters, this will probably not happen, but the potential is there. In an era of money talks to the electorate, working class neighborhoods like most of those in east Portland are seldom likely to run successful campaigns for council. Randy Leonard was the most recent. East Portland residents are not the only Portland residents who have expressed interest in a neighborhood/district format for electing council members, but a 2007 initiative failed.

East Portland de-Annexation Movement is hopeful to have increased support for their action, and have assured supporters they are not finished. When questioned about the potential municipality a successful initiative petition would have, Swenson offers no personal opinions about its naming or function, other than the provision of fundamental necessities to the residents. “That will be decided by the citizens,” she said.

To contact Swenson, call 503-253-8094. The East Portland de-Annexationists, Facebook page address is