|City, county launch East Portland Action Plan
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
With snow blowing past, a room full of hardy souls gathered at David Douglas High School Dec. 1 to kick off the long-awaited East Portland Action Plan, an effort to identify solutions to what ails east Portland and, if possible, implement them as well.
The project grew out of a convergence of several efforts: the Portland Bureau of Plannings East Portland Review under Barry Manning, State Rep. Jeff Merkleys East Portland Commission, and Portland Commissioner Randy Leonards moves to fund those efforts to the tune of $125,000 in the city budget. Manning will be in charge of the current effort, and he will work with a 26-member committee that includes Commissioner Erik Sten, Multnomah County Commission Chair Ted Wheeler, East Precinct Commander Mike Crebs, TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen and David Douglas Superintendent Barbara Rommel. Other members are James Chasse of the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association; Frieda Christopher of the David Douglas School District and the Gateway Urban Renewal Program Advisory Committee; Frank DiGregorio, area resident; Bob Earnest, Gateway PAC chair and Hazelwood Neighborhood Association board member; Rev. Brian Heron, pastor of Eastminster Presbyterian Church; Judith Huck, businessperson and resident; Arlene Kimura, Hazelwood Association chair and neighborhood activist; Lawrence Kotan, resident, Katie Larsell, resident; Carol Parten, resident and supervisor of the Midland Branch Library; James Pauley, resident; Vadim Riskin, a resident active in the Slavic community; Nick Sauvie of the nonprofit Rose Community Development; Jon Turino, a resident and member of the Gateway and Parkrose business associations; Mike Vander Veen, resident and business person; Dorene Warner of the nonprofit Innovative Housing and a former Gateway PAC chair; Michelle Winningham, resident; and Simon Wong, real estate broker active in the Asian community.
As a starting-off exercise, staffer Deb Meihoff asked each person to describe what he or she liked best about the area and its greatest challenges. A consistent theme of the positive comments was the people of the area, the degree to which they care about their community, and their willingness to put themselves on the line for it. Theyre a bunch of people willing to volunteer and do work, Turino said.
Larsell added, I love that eastsiders are not homogeneous. When you want to know what theyre thinking, you have to ask.
Crebs agreed, saying that his citizen advisory committee is the largest of any of the citys police precincts. People here (volunteers) really support the police, he said. They just love us to death.
Warner said she was told, Look for an apartment on the east side, and when you make it financially, move to the west side. That perception is changing. People are really passionate about this part of town.
Earnest grew up in the Woodstock neighborhood, and when he moved to Mid-county, people thought I was out of my mind. It was the best move I could have made. Theres a tremendous amount of pride in an area thats untapped.
Winningham, who lives next to Powell Butte, said, We have quite a few things the Pearl wishes it had, such as families and diversity. We should celebrate that rather than try to be like somewhere else. As a parks advocate, she said, I sometimes feel like a lone ranger. Im really excited to see a roomful of people willing to work for change.
As to the problems, the political leaders set the tone. Im very concerned about the issues Ive seen evolving here over the last decade, Merkley said. Were one-third of the city, but if youre downtown, what you see is the west side of Mount Tabor, and then theres another five miles. Theres a growing concentration of poverty and property crimes, issues of bad development and design, projects crammed in with few amenities. If growth isnt planned for, we could reach the tipping point where people stop investing in this area.
Families with small children are migrating east and pushing eastern school districts to capacity, Wheeler said. There are also shifts in culture due to an influx of immigrants.
Manning and Jill Fuglister of the Coalition for a Livable Future set out the issues, enumerated in the East Portland Review and drawn from community comments, which the new process will address. These included:
The disproportionately large amount of infill and multi-family development that has occurred in east Portland in the last 10 years.
The areas transportation system, with its unimproved and nonexistent streets, lack of sidewalks and a transit system that does not provide an adequate number of north-south routes.
Crime. East Precinct has more calls for service than any other, Manning said, and there is increasing drug traffic.
Crebs said the biggest problems he saw were crime and the fear of crime. There are people who are afraid to go outside their own house, which leaves the streets to the people who cause trouble.
DiGregorio, who lives in Pleasant Valley, said he had heard others speak of his neighborhood as felony flats. Im tired of it. I want to make this community shine.
Schools. Not only are eastern districts receiving so many children they are bursting at the seams, but also a large proportion of these children present special challenges. At Alder School, for instance, 64 percent of students are learning the English language for the first time, and 90 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches because their families are in poverty.
Development has led to a severe loss of trees, which had given the area much of its appeal and character.
Parks and recreation facilities are playing catch-up to the expanding need, Manning said. Some parks are less developed. Some areas, such as Gateway and Powell Boulevard, have no access to parks.
Environmental and watershed resources, which are at risk from new development.
Commercial services and employment, where there has been not as much progress as wed like to see, Manning said. Much of the new housing has few retail services close by, even when the zoning theoretically provides the opportunity.
Chasse eloquently expressed what the community treasures and what it fears it is losing. I grew up in Parkrose, and I had a paper route on the east side of Mount Tabor. I loved the trees, and the proximity to Mount Hood. Ive seen changes over the last 20 years. Its hard to walk here where there are no sidewalks. We need to start engaging youth and (focusing on) transportation issues.
Kimura had a different issue. The biggest challenge is that we do everything piecemeal, she said. Each branch of government is only interested in its own specialty or its own project. We need a holistic approach.
Sten said, I know east Portland people prefer action to talk. Weve done the planning; we dont need a comprehensive plan that studies every issue. What we need is an action program. We want building blocks for solutions, and to not just solve problems but do so before they start.
To this Wheeler responded, Just for a counterpoint, the county budget looks as bleak as the citys is looking good. We can put out a big vision, but also a realistic short-term vision. I dont want the illusion that theres a huge pot of money. It doesnt exist.
Without being specific, Mayor Tom Potter said that city resources would be available to implement east Portland projects. We want to see something immediate, just like you folks do, he said. Our commitment is to this community.
Christopher responded, Whats important is being championed by the higher levels of government rather than have them put up roadblocks.
Meihoff said that the committee would meet next on Jan. 10 and thereafter on the second Thursday of each month.
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