For the first time since he's held public office, Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams visited the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association on December 20th.
Nearly every seat in the library at Duniway Elementary School was filled, as neighbors readied themselves to quiz Adams on a variety of topics. There was an air of expectancy as the association's President, Gretchen Sperling, introduced herself and began the meeting.
Before the arrival of the Commissioner, Catherine Mushel, supported by Karen Williams, spoke regarding the Eastmoreland Elm Inoculation project.
'We spend $14,000 each summer for the project,' reminded Mushel, the former Chair of the Tree Committee. 'We usually go into the year with $4,000 with which to seed fundraising, but we're going into this season with no money at all. I'm asking we set aside $4,300. We then have to raise $10,000 [more] for the inoculation.'
The project inoculates the Duniway School's trees, as well as others in the neighborhood, she added.
Asked whether or not elm inoculation is effective, Mushel and Williams pointed out that scientific studies suggest it does help improve the health of the trees. However, the funding issue was put off for further discussion.
Still awaiting Adams' arrival, board members continued with association business.
Robert McCullough and Bud Oringdulph brought up the lack of care for the grass and trees along Reed College Place.
'About six months ago, neighbors at Reed College Place met with Sam Adams' staff regarding maintenance, ground covering, and tree-cutting on the street,' McCullough began.
'After some research, we discovered that Portland Office of Transportation (PDOT) 'owns' these park strips. They stopped maintaining them several years ago. Portland Parks and Recreation does what little maintenance is done.'
Further, the representatives were told in that staff meeting, that their best bet is to establish a Local Improvement District (LID) to finance the maintenance of greenery along Reed College Place.
When Commissioner Sam Adams arrived shortly afterward, he joined in the discussion.
'The City's landscape maintenance and tree trimming budget was cut five years ago,' Adams began. '$125,000 per year is used to clear trees and brush from stop signs and signals. I prioritize spending around life and safety issues.
'In your case, [Reed College Place] is a wonderful citywide asset. Since the issue has been brought to us, we'll beg, borrow, and steal money to help.'
Stepping back, Adams cautioned, 'I do need you to understand this - there are other grand boulevards in the City of Portland, located in much poorer neighborhoods than yours. If you are willing to share the cost, I think you'll get a better response from the city. I do think that a LID has merit. You should also ask your city government to match those funds.'
Adams pitches transportation improvement plan
At the meeting, Adams used the opportunity to present the street-improvement plan he advocates, which would be funded by both businesses and homeowners across the city.
'A residential Street Safety and Maintenance fee of $4.50 a month will pay for a specific list of projects.'
Adams went on to describe how the PDOT intends to fix the arterials in poorest condition, increase safety at the most dangerous intersections, and help save money and smooth traffic by synchronizing traffic signals.
'I'm looking at the 'killing streets' in Portland first,' Adams explained. 'I want engineering improvements for the most dangerous intersections in Portland. It is a horrifying responsibility for this reason: [At some intersections] it isn't about one person being killed; it's measured in how many people are being killed.'
Adams listened to concerns about cars zipping through Woodstock and speed bumps, to which he replied, 'The 'Three E's' needed are education, engineering, and enforcement.'
Asked about the City spending money for 'sexy' projects 'like trams and trolleys', but not having the money for maintenance, Adams explained how trams and trolleys are funded by LID and PDC funds; those are monies not available for routine street maintenance.
The commissioner touched briefly on the issue of the Sellwood Bridge: 'We're working with Multnomah County to find funding and location solutions.'
A neighbor asked Adams, 'There's a good chance you may be our next Mayor. If you're elected, how will you handle things?'
Adams replied that he has three main concerns: Education, low wages, and the influx of residents.
'I'm concerned that in some parts of Portland, half of our eighth graders don't graduate from high school. We have some of the best and some of the worst schools. We need to make some real headway, but it will take more than just leaving it to the school boards.'
Regarding wages, Adams commented, 'Thirty percent of Portlanders work at poverty wages; in Seattle, the rate is 20 percent. For our workers, they aren't climbing the 'first rung' of the ladder to success; they're hanging on to the 'only rung'. We need find ways to help businesses succeed.'
Adams on increased density
Commenting on the expected growth of Portland, Adams forecast, 'A million people will be moving here in the next decade. In terms of transportation and housing, we're not ready for them.
'Areas like Woodstock will have to become denser and become mixed-use neighborhoods. Otherwise, at the minimum, congestion will be three times what we have right now. We'll still be better off than other large cities, but the thought of it keeps me up at night.'
'How well is Portland going to handle this increased density?' a neighbor asked.
Adams replied, 'It depends on how we choose to accommodate growth. It might mean that downtown Portland will be denser. The Gateway District is supposed to become denser, but it isn't happening. Answers that worked in the past don't necessarily work in the future.
'Density is not the problem, design is. We could draw lines around certain sections of the city where we'll deny increased density, but that would mean we'll have to double up in other areas. We can handle it. It will take innovation, risk, and cost. We can't stay being smug about it.'
Asked to comment on 'skinny houses', Adams said, 'To a degree, these are the slums of tomorrow. Some of the crap that has being going up is disheartening. There was a time [in Portland's history when] a house lot was two pieces of property put together. The skinny house developers used this loophole. Many of them being built in North Portland, where I live, and in Lents, are poorly built and will not last. We closed the loophole, but we're still stuck with hundreds of them around the city.'
On the topic of noise emanating from the nearby railroad, Adams quipped, 'My Grandma lives in Union Manor. Sometimes she'll call me at night and simply hold her telephone up by her window. The railroads operate with such impunity. Your federal representatives are your best bet to get action.'
Finally, commenting on the Parker House, Adams said, 'This issue will come before the City Council as part of the Reed College Master Plan. The City will usually tell both sides to enter into mediation. I will talk to Reed [College officials] and ask them to be more forthcoming.'