Mayor Wheeler on Portland's future: 'A city that works for everyone'
On a rainy Thursday morning in a tightly packed gathering hall on Portland Community College's Southeast Portland campus, Mayor Wheeler delivered his annual State of the City address.
He talked about progress that has been made since he became mayor 16 months ago, and he did not shy away from the serious challenges that are still ahead for our community.
"We have come some of the way, not near all of it," he said, quoting President Lyndon B. Johnson's remarks celebrating the passage of the 1968 Civil Rights Act. "There is much yet to do."
Indeed, there is. At the Portland Business Alliance, where I serve as the chair of the board of directors, we are committed to working with Mayor Wheeler to advance his priorities around homelessness and housing, public safety, economic development and transportation, among other issues. It is clear to us, that, thanks to the principled and inclusive leadership from the mayor's office, the state of our city is getting stronger.
Mayor Wheeler knows that at the forefront of most people's minds is our homelessness crisis. In a poll commissioned by the Alliance in December 2017, this was the number one priority for a majority of Portlanders. While even one person sleeping outside is too many, Mayor Wheeler highlighted the city's strong partnership with Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury throughout the past 15 months to enable a record number of people to move off the streets and into safer accommodations. Their efforts have resulted in an almost 12 percent reduction in the number of people unsheltered, and a record number of people were assisted to avoid losing their homes.
In his address, Mayor Wheeler committed to redoubling his efforts to prevent and respond to the homeless emergency — but emphasized that government cannot do it alone.
"The private sector is taking the lead with government as the partner," he said, referring to the generous personal gift of $1.5 million from Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle to Oregon Harbor of Hope for a new shelter/navigation center. "This project will serve as proof-of-concept that public/private partnerships in Portland can work."
The Alliance continues to help establish shelters, which serve an immediate need, but we are also advocating for permanent supportive housing options for our neighbors experiencing mental health crises, drug addiction and other problems.
Following Mayor Wheeler's lead, our organization will support the Oregon constitutional amendment referred to voters by the Legislature in February, which will allow local government to leverage bond dollars with private sector investments to increase production of affordable housing. The private sector and nonprofit developers want to contribute to the solution as much as possible this amendment will remove an unnecessary barrier to that end.
We were also pleased to hear the mayor call for an increase in the Portland Police Bureau's staffing levels, as outlined in the bureau's 2018-19 budget request for 93 new sworn officers. As I wrote in my column last month, the Alliance is committed to supporting Chief Danielle Outlaw in her efforts to implement community policing strategies identified by President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
We all acknowledge this issue is a controversial one. But, the fact is, our police force has been systemically cut despite large increases in our population, with more than 300 fewer officers than 30 years ago. It is reasonable to ask for more officers — especially when certain crime rates and response times keep climbing. In his address, Mayor Wheeler made his support for Chief Outlaw explicitly clear, which we all must do as the bureau attempts to learn from Portland's past and create a responsible police force trusted by all.
Portland's business community is more committed than ever to resolve the troubling issues in our city. I am grateful that the Alliance and our members have the opportunity to collaborate with our elected leaders. As we tackle these incredibly complex issues as a community, I am heartened by the progress we have made, the honest evaluation of our circumstances and the vision shown by Mayor Wheeler.
"I am optimistic about our future, I am optimistic about our people and I know that together we will succeed," the mayor said in closing. "Together, working in partnership, Portland won't just be a city that works, but a city that works for everyone."