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Fritz sings to Portland Plan gathering

Despite serenading from City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, the song remains the same in east Portland: increasing poverty, substandard housing, lack of infrastructure, high-density housing, and school districts where in 40 percent of student households English is not the first language spoken


City Commissioner Amanda Fritz coordinates with the band before singing a rendition of “Over the Rainbow” to open the Portland Plan planning session held at David Douglas High School last month.
Submitted Photo
David Douglas School Board member Frieda Christopher, left, and Jean DeMaster, executive director of the nonprofit housing provider Human Solutions, participate during last month's Portland Plan meeting held at David Douglas High School in outer east Portland.
About 45 dedicated souls came out to David Douglas High School last month to hear Amanda Fritz sing “Over the Rainbow,” and help plan the city's future through the Portland Plan process.

The Portland Plan is an updating of the 1980 Portland Comprehensive Plan with regard to city zoning and policies. However, Mayor Sam Adams indicated that the current effort will go further than the original plan did. “We're looking at actual human beings, not just infrastructure,” he said.

A consensus goal is to achieve “equity,” which is defined as providing everyone access to the resources they need. Adams stated that there should be equity among ethnic groups, different income levels, ages and sexes, but also different geographic areas. Addressing this last Adams said, “This part of town is lacking in infrastructure and services, but every part of town feels that way. It's unlikely we'll get new money from the federal government. We need to get the most out of what we have.”

The small group discussions that followed repeated the litany of complaints Mid-county residents have been presenting for 20 years. Jean DeMaster, executive director of the nonprofit housing provider Human Solutions, said there should be “an adequate supply of decent and affordable housing.” To this, Frieda Christopher, a member of the David Douglas School Board and the Gateway Urban Renewal Program Advisory Committee, objected that there should be no more high-density housing, especially if it is designed for families, because the district has no more capacity or money to add any.

“A small school district has to ask for more money from each property owner because we have a smaller tax base,” she said. “We won't go out for one this year even though we need it because we know we couldn't pass it.” Eventually both Christopher and DeMaster agreed that a proper approach is to repair and retrofit existing substandard housing rather than to build more.

Another participant, Lisa Keefe, complained about the poor appearance and design of housing. Christopher said that outside of Gateway there is no design review.

Another issue long complained of was lack of access to retail services. There aren't sidewalks in much of east Portland, and a lack of east-west connections makes transit difficult to use. The zoning does not provide many opportunities to build retail, and even when it does, developers sometimes choose to build more housing instead. “This area isn't welcoming to business because there's not a lot of disposable income here,” Keefe said. “People have to leave the area to buy groceries.”

Conversely, Beverly Tobias said the area could use “less of the nasty stuff at 122nd Avenue and Division.”
Adams later told the group, “In the last 10 years poverty has been reduced in every part of Portland except east Portland, where it has grown.”

Christopher and DeMaster both suggested trying to recruit new businesses to the area by emphasizing what it had to offer.

It was pointed out by some attendees that those who make up the area's population include many immigrants of various nationalities, many of whom have a limited grasp of English or familiarity with American customs. Keefe, who works in the David Douglas School District, said that 40 percent of students there come from households where English is not spoken at home.

The city of Portland and other government agencies notify people of actions that affect them only in English, and sometimes not at all for tenants in large apartment complexes. Christopher said that the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization provide translators, but that it is not always “culturally appropriate.”

“You can give people an invite, but if it isn't done right it won't look like an invite to you,” Tobias said.

Adams later said that as part of the Plan process, people would be invited to participate in mail or online surveys, and that these would be offered in Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese and Mandarin Chinese as well as English. One person suggested that the council arrange to hold its next 95 meetings in each of Portland's neighborhoods. “I'll take that under advisement,” Adams said.

Prior to the meeting, accompanied by a band, Fritz sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” perhaps an unconscious reference to community aspirations. Adams politely declined an invitation to sing a song from Gilbert and Sullivan's “The Mikado,” the Lord High Executioner's “I've Got a Little List."

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