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East side squeaky wheel gets city's funding grease

Neighborhoods east of I-205 see big changes as tax dollars flow


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Jose Estrada smooths pavement for a new sidewalk in front of storefronts being remodeled on Southeast 92nd Avenue in Lents. East Portland is getting a healthy sum of city urban renewal funds, including the current project to make the commercial heart of Lents more walkable.The squeaky wheel is getting more grease when it comes to city spending in East Portland.

Neighborhoods east of 82nd Avenue and Interstate 205 are seeing more city dollars flow their direction, according to “budget maps” prepared by the city Office of Management and Finance.

In 2011, then-Mayor Sam Adams ordered his budget staff to starting pinpointing where city dollars are going, in response to complaints by East Portland community leaders that their area was getting shortchanged, particularly on parks and transportation spending. The resulting budget maps divided the city up into eight areas, one for the central city and seven for the coalitions of neighborhood associations in each part of the city: Northwest, Southwest, North, Southeast, Northeast, Central Northeast and East.

There are now three years of budget maps available, and the newest data shows East Portland is getting a fairer shake in city spending.

Initial budget maps for 2010-11 showed East Portland ranked near the top of the eight districts for police and fire spending, though those were somewhat dubious achievements, more a reflection of greater poverty in that part of town.

But the newer maps provide a fuller budget picture, and show that East Portland ranks third-highest among the eight districts in urban renewal and housing spending on a per-capita basis. It’s also getting more attention in parks spending, such as the recently completed E-205 parks initiative, which focused on improved playgrounds and other active recreation sites in East Portland. The area also gets new attention from PDC via its Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative.

East Portland leaders have noticed the increased spending.

“I think what this means is that advocacy is paying off,” says Jean DeMaster, executive director of the nonprofit Human Solutions Inc., and a leader in promoting the East Portland Action Plan, a recipe for community improvements in the area.

The greater spending, to some extent, is based on the area’s greater needs, DeMaster says. She also credits the East Portland Action Plan, which brings together some 60 leaders who advocate for the area on a regular basis at City Hall.

“Without this advocacy we wouldn’t be getting our fair share,” she says.

Nick Sauvie, executive director of ROSE (Revitalize Outer Southeast) Community Development, was a leading advocate for budget mapping and is closely tracking spending each year.

“The trend is upward in most of the (per-capita spending) in East Portland,” Sauvie says. “I’m definitely happy that the city is paying attention and trying to have more equity of spending in our neighborhoods. It was definitely a priority for Mayor Adams and I hope the same is true for Mayor Hales.”

Here’s a closer look at how East Portland fares in the latest budget maps:

Well-maintained streets

East Portland has the highest percentage of major “streets of citywide significance” in fair or better condition. Of the area’s 261 lane-miles of such streets, 82 percent are rated in fair or better condition. Southeast Portland has the lowest share, at 58 percent.

Sauvie notes that East Portland still has 10 of the 11 most dangerous intersections in the city.

Unpaved streets

East Portland has 13.5 miles of unpaved streets, the second-highest after Southwest Portland, which has 16.1 miles’ worth. Northeast Portland has the lowest amount, less than 1 mile’s worth.

Of East Portland’s 403 streets, 3.4 percent are unpaved, the third-highest share among the eight districts. Southwest has the highest proportion by far, with 4.9 percent of its 326 streets still unpaved. Less than 1 percent of Northeast’s 187 streets are unpaved.

DeMaster argues that Southwest and East Portland residents face different situations. Many of Southwest’s dirt streets are little-used cul-de-sacs, she says, while many people in East Portland must walk on dirt roads with no sidewalks to get to grocery stores, banks or payday lending shops needed to pay their bills.

Street improvements

East scores the third-highest capital improvement sending this year by the Portland Bureau of Transportation, with $16.3 million. Southeast has the largest by far, with $96.8 million, because of the Sellwood Bridge and Portland-to-Milwaukie MAX construction.

On a per-capita basis, East ranks fourth-highest. Central Northeast has the lowest of the eight districts in total spending and per-capita spending.

The Oregon Department of Transportation is repaving a large stretch of Powell Boulevard from I-205 to the Gresham boundary at Southeast 174th Avenue this fall, but DeMaster complains the project falls short.

It still leaves stretches of Powell without sidewalks, she says, so pedestrians must walk along a shoulder that isn’t separated from traffic. That’s a recipe for accidents if cars pass slow-moving or left-turning traffic on the right, she predicts.

Urban Renewal

East Portland ranks second in urban renewal spending this year, at $21.2 million. The central city is tops with $103.7 million. East ranks third on a per-capita basis.

Three of the Portland Development Commission’s 11 major urban renewal districts lie mostly or entirely in East Portland: Lents, Gateway and Airport Way. In addition, PDC’s Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative, launched in 2011, includes six mini-urban renewal districts. Of those, four are largely or wholly in East Portland. Spending on those projects will be modest, and most of it will occur in future years.

Housing

East scores $10.9 million this year in local investments, second only to the central city, which gets $33.2 million. Central Northeast is last, with only $200,000.

On a per-capita basis, East ranks third-highest; the central city is highest and Central Northeast is the lowest.

Urban renewal money provides much of the city’s housing money, so East Portland benefits by hosting three urban renewal districts.

East Portland also has more than its share of cheap and available land for multifamily projects, DeMaster says. Neighborhood leaders complain they’re getting mostly low-income housing in East Portland, when they could use a greater mix of incomes there.

Park access

East Portland still has the highest share of residents living more than a half-mile from the nearest park, at 38 percent. How ever, that’s an improvement from 42 percent two years ago, and it doesn’t include park lands the city owns but hasn’t developed.

DeMaster cites two proposed parks, at 106th Avenue and Halsey Boulevard, and 154th Avenue and Wilcox Street, that are still empty. “There’s nothing there for people to do,” she says.

Only 2 percent of central city residents live more than a half-mile from a developed park, tops among the eight districts.

Parks operations spending

East has the third-highest total spending on park operations, at $4 million. Southeast has the most at $7.8 million, largely due to Portland Tennis Center and Community Music Center within its boundaries, which have a more regional draw. The central city got the least amount of funds, with $1.2 million.

On a per-capita basis, East scores only sixth out of eighth. Southwest scores the highest, largely on the strength of the Southwest Community Center and Multnomah Arts Center, while the central city ranks lowest.

Parks capital spending

East ties for fourth out of eight, with $1.5 million spent. That was an improvement over the prior year, largely due to E-205. North got the most funds, at $3.1 million, and Northwest and Central Northeast got the least, at about $500,000 each.

On a per-capita basis, East tied for sixth; North got the most and Central Northeast got the least.

Police spending

East receives the second-highest level of police spending, at $191 per person, behind only Northeast, at $201 per person. Southwest has the lowest police spending, at $139 per person. Those figures reflect crime levels in the neighborhoods.

Police response time

The average police response time in East is 4.6 minutes, third-best among the districts. Central city has the best response times, an average of 3.9 minutes. Southwest, at 6.4 minutes, has the slowest response times.

Those times are a reflection of population density, traffic conditions and street connectivity, in large measure.

Fire/Emergency Medical Services spending

East receives the second-highest level of fire and emergency response service spending, at $114 per person, topped only by the central city, at $121 per person. Those areas have the highest number of incidents. Southwest has the lowest spending per person, at $58.

Fire/Emergency Medical Services response time

The average response time in East was 7.1 minutes, tied for third-best. The best response time was in the central city, at 6.1 minutes; the slowest was in Southwest, at 8.3 minutes.

Despite their success at getting more attention to East Portland, neighborhood leaders aren’t ready to stop advocating for their community. As DeMaster notes, city funding for the East Portland Action Plan is now on the chopping block. In addition, she fears new federal cuts, combined with pending cuts from City Hall, will adversely affect East Portland.

“I think it looks very bleak for all of the inner-city neighborhoods that serve low-income people,” DeMaster says.


How East Portland ranks in per-capita spending or service levels among Portland’s neighborhood districts (1st is the best and 8th is the worst.)

Well-maintained major streets: 1st

Unpaved streets: 6th

Spending for street improvements: 4th

Urban renewal spending: 3rd

Housing spending: 3rd

Access to neighborhood parks: 8th

Spending to operate parks: 6th

Spending on park improvements: 6th

Police spending: 2nd

Police response time: 3rd

Fire/EMS spending: 2nd

Fire/EMS response time: tied for 3rd

Source: City Budget Maps for 2012-13