'MUGGED BY CITY'
Even in some long-established neighborhoods in Portland, many unpaved streets remain.
When a Reed neighborhood couple, David Foster and Brenda Gunderson, started looking into how they could get S.E. 33rd Avenue and S.E. Pardee Street improved, they were amazed that the process could potentially lead to a $99,990 bill being delivered to them.
S.E. Pardee Street is an unpaved, deeply-rutted, and pothole-lined alley that runs behind the Grand Lodge IOOF Holgate Center - which faces S.E. Holgate Boulevard, across the street from Grout Elementary School.
S.E. 33rd Avenue dead-ends into S.E. Pardee Street.
'When we got married, we needed to quickly find a house, and thought this was it - because it had a big enough yard for our dog and our child,' Foster began his story. 'The house seemed ideal.'
But they found very unsatisfactory S.E. Pardee Street, a 16-foot wide unimproved alley that passes on the north side of their house and goes past their driveway. From their driveway eastward, Foster said, there's two-way traffic, and pedestrians and bicycles using the 'road' with no sidewalks and no safe path for those on foot on S.E. Pardee.
'We've had some 'close calls' pulling out of our garage; the building blocks our view of the street.'
When they started looking for the agency in the City of Portland with whom to inquire about the street, Foster continued, 'We heard that there's nothing we can do. So, we've worked with neighbors to fill in potholes and smooth out the road.'
But they didn't give up, and their inquiries led them to the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PDOT). Foster said they were directed to speak to Andrew Aebi, PDOT's point man in charge of the Local Improvement District (L.I.D.) program.
'At the time, we didn't realize what a mistake that was,' Gunderson said. 'We had no idea that once we'd 'opened the door' asking about a L.I.D., they were not going to let us close it.'
PDOT began drawing up plans, the couple said. 'When they came back and told us all the things they could do, it really sounded great,' Foster said. 'The safety concern issue remained, but they said they'd take care of it all, if we'd just vote for their L.I.D. proposal.'
But, the couple said they were shocked when they eventually saw the price tag: more than $800,000. 'They said our part would be about $100,000 - payable at $800 a month,' Gunderson recalled.
Foster added, 'It's like 'we're in the wrong store' - the City is trying to sell us a motor home bus, but all we need - and can afford - is a Volkswagen bug.'
Eight property owners would shoulder the cost for spiffing up the S.E. Pardee Street alley, and the unpaved stub of S.E. 33rd Avenue. All of the property owners in the improvement area would get a vote - based on the amount of property frontage exposed to the affected streets. By the same token, each property owner would pay a proportionate amount for the improvements.
The IOOF Holgate Center, the single largest property owner affected, would pay nearly half the cost - it has 49.9 percent of the frontage, and thus, has nearly half the vote. 'All they need is 51% of the property owners to vote in favor to put in the L.I.D.,' Foster said.
During the time the L.I.D. was being proposed, the couple discovered they had another problem. 'When they ran a scope down our sewer, they found a leak - and we learned we had a 'non-conforming sewer' line,' said Foster. 'We just had Portland Environmental Services out, and have already signed a waiver that we will pay for a hookup. And, that we are responsible for any repairs and need to be done in the interim - and scheduled to be done in 2017. We're willing to fix it.'
'Mugged by the City'
But, when the couple applied for a permit, it was denied. Foster said, 'They will not issue a permit [for the sewer repair] unless we vote in favor of the L.I.D. 'They're strong-arming us; I feel like we're being mugged by the City.'
Foster noted they can't prove the negation of a concept in that the City hasn't put anything in writing indicating their refusal to grant the sewer repair permit. While there isn't a 'smoking gun' - both Foster and Gunderson affirmed that their contractor said that the City had refused to permit the job.
Some property owners exempted
Foster brought out documents showing several different generations of plans for the L.I.D. they'd received.
On a recent plan, it shows a paved multi-use pathway - not a vehicular alley - now extended west from their house past three other homes. 'These three homes were 'exempted' from the process, meaning that they don't get a vote - and they are not liable for expenses,' Foster said. 'Two of those three homeowners told us they are not in favor of the L.I.D., and perhaps [if they were to be allowed to vote on it] their votes could have swung the approval to less than 50% in favor of the L.I.D.'
Once the couple started bringing up these issues, they say the City kept modifying the plan. 'In the new plan they don't show these exempted properties, but it is still part of the plan.'
On July 20, the Portland City Council accepted a petition of support - initially with 52% support - but a 'late supporter' brought it up to 67.2% - of the property owners as measured by their share of the L.I.D. costs, according to PDOT's spokesman, Dan Anderson.
After the presentation, neighbors not in favor contacted City Hall - and Portland Mayor Sam Adams visited the site on August 23.
'Mayor Adams said we must accept the L.I.D. because there's a leaky sewer, and the road is clearly unpaved,' Foster commented. 'When we told him we simply couldn't afford it, he asked, 'So, are you more concerned about money than safety?''
The Portland City Council was scheduled to hear this issue again on December 7, at which time they were to include amendments to accept any property owner requests to withdraw their prior support of the L.I.D.
'There was a 'substitute resolution' on the City Council's agenda to 'Declare intent to terminate L.I.D. formation proceedings,' Anderson told THE BEE. 'The substitute resolution was referred back to the Mayor's office by the City Council.'
Foster attended that City Council session. 'When it came up, they read the resolution, and Mayor Adams said it was being referred back to our office. He shows no consideration for our situation, and the time we've put into this. The neighbors who disagree with the L.I.D. have no representation. It causes us a lot of stress; it's a horrible feeling.'
The IOOF Holgate Center withdrew their support, Foster said, as have others.
'I think the support [for the L.I.D.] is now down to 1.7%,' Foster pointed out. 'We don't know why Adams continues to appear to dismiss our concerns - maybe it's a pride thing, because PDOT failed to get approval for the L.I.D. But our experience shows that Portland's L.I.D. program really needs to be looked at. It's wrong to work by coercion instead of cooperation.'
There are reportedly 64 miles of unpaved streets within the Portland City Limits, and it currently appears that most of them will be staying that way.