Adams, city have ways to improve
Mayor Sam Adams laid out a comprehensive roadmap for Portland's future in his State of the City address last Friday. At the same time, he took appropriate credit for a number of things that have gone right on his watch.
In his speech, Adams noted the city's cash surplus. He also touted the city's public works projects that employed thousands of workers during the recession. Overall crime rates are low, Adams said. And the city continues to emphasize transit, biking and walking as ways to reduce traffic congestion.
Other accomplishments include Portland's continued investment in affordable and subsidized housing, and its streamlined development-review and permit processes.
Adams is correct to say that the city is positioned to become 'a small-and-scrappy, globally competitive city.' He also is right to warn that Portland must make sure it doesn't become an insignificant stopping off place between Seattle and San Francisco.
But to achieve essential social and public-safety outcomes, Adams and the City Council must yet improve their performance. They must become more decisive. They must alter what sometimes appears to be a scattershot approach by firmly linking Portland's numerous strategies to the desired outcomes. And they must get better at explaining to the public how focusing on an improved economy is not only a good exit strategy from the recession, but also the best way to generate long-term funding to improve public services and the city's quality of life.
Here are a few priorities that we think Adams and the city should commit to:
• Rejoining the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. In light of last year's bomb plot involving the Pioneer Courthouse Square Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, it's obvious that terrorism is not just practiced in big cities. Portland must again be a terrorism task force participant and the region should count on Portland to serve as its overall leader in ensuring safety.
• Linking the city's land-use, housing, infrastructure and transportation policies to the city's economic development strategies. Too often, the city's initiatives on land-use, transportation or other matters are singular in purpose and outcome. These investments must be more directly tied to the city's economic initiatives, which include clean technology, advanced manufacturing, athletic and outdoor apparel design, software and university research.
• Restoring the city's drug-free and prostitution-free zones. These zones were discontinued for a variety of reasons, and that mistake was compounded by Multnomah County budget cuts that eliminated some district attorney staffing for prosecuting lower level crimes. In turn, neighborhoods such as Old Town, Chinatown and 82nd Avenue are being reclaimed by thugs, drug dealers, prostitutes and pimps. Community safety is at risk. It's time that the city and the county restore programs that arrest, prosecute and incarcerate those who violate public safety.
• Informing, not just advocating, in regard to the Columbia River Crossing project. Adams and the city have helped the crossing debate move forward. Yet, it will be the governors of Oregon and Washington who will ultimately decide the design and shape of a new Interstate 5 bridge. We are confident that in these dire times, the governors are poised to select the least expensive and most reliable design that can be built promptly and on time. If Adams and the city think that an iconic design or other features are equally important, they must give the governors ample reason and public support to choose another design in these highly uncertain and economic-damaged times.
• Ending the trading of barbs and the impatience shared between Portland and Hillsboro and Washington County. Adams and Portland Commissioner Nick Fish have opened regional wounds by criticizing the suburbs for not making greater investments in affordable and low-income housing. As a result, they say Portland is forced to support more of the region's poor and needy.
Meanwhile, some suburban leaders have pushed back and questioned Portland's analysis.
The debate misses many points. Regional problems such as affordable housing require leadership and solutions - not infighting, claiming credit or applying blame.
Adams and Portland City Hall have a lot to take credit for. But the future has even more responsibilities to effectively and quickly achieve.