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Portland to fund new school, community center

City Council approves urban renewal satellite concept for Outer East Portland
by: Merry MacKinnon, Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland, David Douglas School Board Chairwoman, Annette Mattson and David Douglas School District Superintendent Barbara Rommel testified at City Hall recently in favor of initiatives that pave the way for a portion of downtown Portland's urban renewal funds to be used to build an elementary school in Outer East Portland's David Douglas School District.

The Portland City Council cleared the way for a portion of downtown urban renewal funds to go toward the David Douglas School District for a new elementary school and community center.

Many people testified in Council Chambers on Wednesday, March 12, in favor of two resolutions that, in an unusual twist, allow downtown Portland to share urban renewal funds with Outer East Portland.

According to the City Council agenda, the first resolution (323) recommended criteria for addition of noncontiguous urban renewal areas.

'We studied the urban renewal code and found nowhere in there does it need to be contiguous,' said Commissioner Erik Sten, who, last year, conceived of the unusual concept in urban renewal to set up satellite districts where funds could also be directed.

The other resolution (324) recommended amendment of the River District Urban Renewal Area to add an area in East Portland.

City councilors passed both resolutions unanimously.

The idea is to require a part of Inner West Portland, which includes the Pearl District, to distribute some of its urban renewal wealth to Outer East Portland, said Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland, who testified in favor of the resolutions.

Monroe, a resident of Outer East Portland, served 10 years on the David Douglas School Board.

'David Douglas is the fastest growing school district in the metropolitan area,' Monroe said. 'These students have the highest needs and the lowest means."

Testifying in support at the table next to him were David Douglas School District Superintendent Barbara Rommel and School Board Chairwoman Annette Mattson. The new school site would be on about 7 acres the school district owns off Deardorff Road.

'This year we welcomed more new students than any other district in the county,' Rommel said, adding that crowding had forced district schools to turn closets into classrooms.

Monroe said that David Douglas is the second poorest school district in Oregon in terms of assessed property values per student. Seventy percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch programs. Past school funding bond measures have failed, he said, because residents can't afford them.

'It's not true that they don't support schools,' Monroe said. 'It's a poor, working class community.'

Only one person testified in opposition to the resolutions. Shelley Lorenzen, representing the League of Women Voters, told commissioners that the league did not support the resolutions. Instead, it wants the River District Urban Renewal designation to be lifted, as it has accomplished its mission of removing urban blight, she said.

'Let urban renewal districts expire, as they are supposed to when they are successful,' Lorenzen said. 'The urban renewal district takes money away from taxing jurisdictions, and that is money that could otherwise go to schools, police and other services.'

However, Lorenzen's statements failed to sway councilors.

'This gives us another tool to create opportunity for everybody, no matter where they live,' Commissioner Randy Leonard said.