Gateway Area Business Association (GABA) held its monthly luncheon on Jan. 11 to kick off a new year of meetings and networking for local small business owners. GABA gathered at El Indio on Northeast Halsey Street to eat, give out their Citizen of the Year award and hear a speech from Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. Sitting on City Council and overseeing the Office of Neighborhood Involvement and the Bureau of Development Services, Eudaly is an important figure in the management and development of the city.
Also giving speeches at the event were Stacey Vu and Mark Wells, both from the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, who were attempting to drum up interest in starting cells of Business Watch, which is essentially Neighborhood Watch for businesses. They spoke briefly at the end of the event and left information with many of the local business owners hoping to create a presence in Gateway.
GABA has been around for nearly 70 years in one form or another, changing from the Gateway Boosters to GABA in 1993, and it has been covered previously in these pages for a variety of local issues and events. Representing a fluctuating quorum of Gateway business owners in addition to owners from elsewhere in the city and, in some cases, citizens who are not necessarily business owners themselves, the group’s gathering was attended by nearly 30 interested and cheerful locals (though notably, many of those present were not actually Gateway business owners).
Among the mix were GABA board members like Karen Montez and Lisa Ortquist of Ortquist and Associates CPAs, former GABA officers like Fred Sanchez, owner of 111th Square, as well as other local business owners like Jack Hagan of Northwest Flyfishing Outfitters. Also present were Heather Hale from Venture Portland, a representative of Meals on Wheels and somebody named Norman who says he lives at his uncle’s house and has been weatherizing attics for the last 15 years as a research project.
After some pleasantries, introductions and placing lunch orders, business got underway with the first matter at hand being the awarding of Citizen of the Year. This year, the award went to Linda Robinson. As founder of Friends of Gateway Green and with her 25-plus years as board member of the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association, it was her third Citizen of the Year award from GABA. In addition, Robinson is founder of the East Portland Parks Coalition and a fixture at local meetings and events. “I’ll try not to get emotional, because I’ve known this person for many, many years,” started longtime GABA board member Karen Montez when introducing Robinson. “I’ve never seen such a dedication to community, to neighborhoods, to involvement, to improvement of everything we have here, be it business, residential, parks—and as soon as I say parks you know who our citizen of the year is: Linda Robinson!”
Robinson graciously accepted her award and posed for pictures. “She’s not just active in one group, but multiple groups,” Lisa Ortquist, GABA Treasurer, told us about Robinson; “The woman amazes me!”
With that, they got right to down to the main event: a speech from Commissioner Eudaly, who appeared flanked by her chief of staff, Marshall Runkel.
“I need to clarify I’m no longer a small business owner. I was told the day after the election that I couldn’t own a business and sit on city council at the same time,” said Eudaly in opening before joking, “So unlike our president, I actually got rid of my business.”
That same sense of warmth for other small business owners (Eudaly herself owned a Portland bookstore that she opened in 1994) and rejection of the current administration and its corporate-friendly policies permeated her brief talk, which served largely to introduce her to a room full of east Portland’s concerned small businesses and nonprofits.
Discussing her policy agenda, Eudaly highlighted affordable housing as one issue among her biggest focuses and concerns. She cited personal experiences she had when attempting to raise a child with cerebral palsy and find affordable housing.
“I was really stuck in a substandard, unsafe rental unit, paying more and more rent every year,” said Eudaly. “So I went from devoting a lot of my free time to disability advocacy to housing justice, and that is how I ended up running for City Council.”
“My big areas are tenant protections and affordable housing, environmental issues, small businesses and the arts community, which I’ve been a part of for 30 years now,” said Eudaly in response to what her agenda would entail.
“We all have serious concerns about the sharing economy,” said Eudaly, responding to a question about Airbnb, a hot topic of contention among many property owners, business owners and housing advocates, mentioning Uber and Lyft as other companies whose contracts would be coming up for review by the city.
“I don’t meet with every lobbyist that asks to meet with me because …” said Eudaly before smiling and turning to her chief of staff, Marshall Runkel. “I don’t know if I should name names … should I name names?” Runkel responded giddily, “Name names!”
“For instance,” Eudaly continued, turning back to the audience, “I won’t meet with the Coca Cola lobbyist. I don’t care what Coca Cola has to say about the policies that the city or the county may be advancing. Because I know what they have to say is just going to be in the interest of their huge multinational corporation. I will however, meet with the Airbnb lobbyists, because it does impact us locally, and I just have a lot of fun arguing with them. So yes, very much on my radar.”
Jack Hagan then rose to ask about the promised increases in police presence in east Portland. While the funding was confirmed, no details were available from Commissioner Eudaly or her team about when and whether any of the promised new 20 officers will find their way to east Portland or if they will be sent downtown.
“You would have to ask the mayor and the Police Bureau what their … I don’t have the latest info from the Police Bureau. I think the council recognizes the need in east Portland,” said Eudaly.
After the meeting, Hagan was skeptical about the responses. “I don’t think that anything I’m concerned with was addressed at that meeting,” said Hagan. “I heard more about the housing crisis then anything else. And I understand that I’m different than the average business owner there; all my employees own their own homes already. But my biggest concern as a taxpayer and business owner in east county is the lack of law enforcement. And when I tried to bring that up, she said that needed to go to somebody else.”
Hagan has seen the issue with homelessness and the lack of police presence in east Portland spiral as he took over his father’s business, one that has been on Northeast Halsey Street for 25 years. “I wanted to hear commitment. I wanted to hear a commitment to seeing the public’s safety is addressed. We need to hire more officers, but it’s also my opinion that it’s going to be hard to hire officers with the way city management and the city treats them,” says Hagan, continuing, “I wouldn’t want to be a cop in this town.”
Lisa Ortquist was more upbeat about the talk. “I really enjoyed [Eudaly] because she’s a real average people person, and there was a good mix of multiple guest speakers, and since we only meet once a month, it’s good to be flooded with information.”
Next month’s GABA meeting will feature a talk from Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler at El Indio on Thursday, Feb. 8, at 12 noon.