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Hales outlines far-reaching agenda for 2016

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: JAIME VALDEZ - Mayor Charlie Hales told the Portland Tribune editorial board that he has big plans for his final year in office last week.With one eye on his legacy, Mayor Charlie Hales laid out an ambitious agenda for his final year in office.

Meeting with the Portland Tribune editorial board last week, Hales discussed several initiatives, including the passage of a city gas tax for streets, implementing a police body camera program, the adoption of new residential infill regulations, and the creation of a new urban renewal area (URA) along the planned Powell-Division transit corridor between Portland and Gresham.

Hales repeatedly stressed his agenda was a continuation of his priorities when he was first elected to the City Council in 1992.

“Growth was a big issue back then, and it is again now. We have only one chance to get it right for the next 100 years,” Hales said of the goal of adopting the state-required Comprehensive Plan update next year. The proposed new URA is intended to help mitigate the effects of gentrification along the line by financing affordable housing projects and supporting existing small business. (See related story on page A3.)

During his hour-plus interview, Hales ticked off his accomplishments during his first three years in office. They included raising the minimum wage for all city employees to $15 an hour, passing a stronger Ban the Box policy than the 2016 Oregon Legislature enacted, passing the stingiest local fossil fuels export ban in the country, increasing general funds for street maintenance by 140 percent, and reducing use of force complaints against the police.

“In the past three years, there has not been one police shooting where people said the police are using too much force and shooting the wrong people,” said Hales, who oversees the Portland Police Bureau.

Hales gave the interview before the Oregon Court of Appeals ordered the city to reinstate Ron Frashour, the fired officer who shot and killed an unarmed African American in January 2010. Hales disagrees with the ruling but says the city will comply with it. (See related story, A8.)

Speaking about the police, Hales said the city needs to hire more officers, in part to respond to a record increase in gang-related violence. He said there are currently 40 vacant officer positions and more that will be created through retirements next year. To help fill those positions, Hales said he will present the council with a package of hiring incentives in January that will include a $7,500 hiring bonus, an increase in entry-level pay from $49,000 to $60,000, and a payment to bureau employees who recruit new officers.

“The increase in gang violence is troubling and frustrating. I believe we are doing everything right, but we have not moved the needle,” Hales said.

Much of the discussion centered on city efforts to reduce homelessness and build more affordable housing, which were not significant issues when Hales first ran for mayor in 2012. Rents and housing prices have soared in Portland as the economy has recovered from the Great Recession, however, making the city an increasingly unaffordable place for many to live.

In response, Hales took credit for having the council declare a housing state of emergency in October and increasing the amount of urban renewal funds dedicated to affordable housing from 30 to 45 percent, which is expected to generate an additional $67 million for such projects over the next 10 years. (See related story on this page.)

Under Hales’ leadership, the city has also joined with Multnomah County and other housing partners in the coalition known as A Home for Everyone that has pledged to reduce homelessness by 50 percent over the next two years. He and County Chair Deborah Kafoury have pledged an additional $30 million for the effort, with the city kicking in $20 million and the county $10 million.

Hales said he expects to continue refining his agenda and will say more about about it during the annual State of the City address before the City Club of Portland in March.

Hales had been running for reelection but dropped out of the race in October after State Treasurer Ted Wheeler announced his candidacy. Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey has said he will file after the first of the year. During the interview, Hales declined to endorse anyone to succeed him but said he expects to before the May 2016 primary election.