Amanda Fritz: Residential infill 'absolutely appalling'
There's no "no comment." Nor are there any of the standard evasions employed by elected officials who would rather not answer the question because to do so would mean taking a stand.
Ask Commissioner Amanda Fritz how she feels about the ramifications of the Residential Infill Policy (RIP) and you'll get an answer.
"It's absolutely appalling. We in Southwest Portland have been ignored," she said.
In the density debate that RIP has sparked, battle lines have been drawn between opposing sides that would be allies on many other issues.
"I'm very concerned about how divisive this has been already and how it's going to be in the future. And it's completely unnecessary. We have the capacity for 249,000 new homes in Portland and most of them are multi-family. We don't have a shortage of multi-family units, what we have is a shortage of single family homes. So if they're looking at making it easier to build more multiple units, that's the opposite of what we need," she said.
The Planning and Sustainability Commission (on which Fritz served for six years in the 1990s) is holding a public hearing on RIP on March 12. If the plan is approved at that point, which is considered likely, the City Council will vote on it, probably during the summer.
For those in Southwest Portland opposed to the infill plan, she had this advice, "They need to show up in droves at the Council to make their case. We're the decision makers. If they come in person, that would be helpful. Testimony should be meaningful but not rude," she said.
"I realize that people are really concerned. For most people their life savings are tied up in their neighborhood and their social network is their neighborhood. But we can talk about the reasons it's good or the reasons it's bad without getting personal," she said.
RIP is a major overhaul of Portland's zoning laws to promote more multi-family units on one-house lots. Asked to predict the vote she didn't say "no comment." She said, "No prediction."
WHAT THE CITY SHOULD DO WITH SEARS CENTER
Asked about the plans for the seldom-used Sears Center on Southwest Multnomah Boulevard at 25th Street, she said, "I thought it should be used for affordable housing back in 2008. That was what I wanted to see happen."
The recession that smacked the economy in 2008 meant the end of plans to convert the property to subsidized housing. So now, Fritz said, "It could be a temporary shelter. But what we do need is a full-service emergency management center in Southwest Portland.
"We're going to be in a world of hurt if the big one hits before we've got things like the Willamette River Crossing Project finished and the bridges across the Willamette fixed up," she said.(The Willamette River Crossing Project is building a new more seismic-resistant pipe to transport water from the east side to the west side.)
"We're going to be on our own for a very long time with the loss of bridges connecting us to downtown and elsewhere. I really want to see Sears Center refurbished and ready to go as an emergency coordination center," Fritz said.
EARTHQUAKE WARNING SIGNS
Commissioner Fritz voted for the ordinance that would require owners of buildings considered vulnerable to earthquake damages to post warning signs. That requirement has proven to be extremely contentious and is the subject of a court battle. She doesn't regret her yes vote. "I think the very least we should do is to warn people who use the building or walk past it that there is some risk if there's an earthquake and what they should do about it," she said.
PERCEPTIONS OF SOUTHWEST PORTLAND
Asked about former Commissioner Dan Saltzman's comment to The Connection last month that many Portlanders from other parts of the city see Southwest Portland as an "affluent area", Fritz said, "It's very common. People think that all of Southwest is like Willamette Heights (a Northwest Portland neighborhood near Forest Park). They don't know about deep Southwest Portland," she said.
"I always say I'm in deep Southwest near PCC (Portland Community College) and they say 'Oh, really.' We were annexed the same time as East Portland in 1979. That's why we don't have sidewalks or cross walks or street lights in many areas of Southwest Portland, because of late annexing," she said.
"I think people who live in Southwest Portland recognize that there are a lot of low income people here. Markham Elementary is the only Title One school on the west side of Portland." (Title One is a Federal Government program which sends funding to schools with a certain percentage of students from low income households.)
Fritz said that many students from such households at other Southwest schools don't receive extra services because their school doesn't have a certain percentage of kids considered low income.
"There are lots of low income folks here who are struggling and who don't get the kinds of services other people get. Still, I think people in Southwest have said, 'Well, East Portland is even worse off than we are so it's right that they should get their's first," she said.
Click here to read the rest of the story in the Southwest Community Connection.