What UNR does, and why

Portland grassroots group United Neighborhoods for Reform seeks to stem the demolition of viable, affordable housing and its replacement with expensive and inefficient large single-family homes. Our demolition/development resolution, developed through significant neighbor outreach, gathered endorsements from 43 neighborhood associations citywide. We also regularly take our message to City Hall, starting in December 2014, continuing in 2015 on Feb. 12, June 3 (UNR presenters start at 51:20), Oct. 14 (UNR at 1:07:35), and Nov. 25 (UNR at 1:05); in 2016 on Feb. 17, Nov. 9 and 16, and Dec. 7; and in 2017 on May 17.

Next up: A whole lotta "engagement theatre" arrives in form of Residential Infill Project open houses
• 5-7 pm Thursday, Oct. 19, Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, 4815 NE 7th Ave.
• 5-7 pm Monday, Oct. 23, Central Northeast Neighbors, 4415 NE 87th Ave.
• 5-7:30 pm Monday, Oct. 30, Multnomah Arts Center, 7688 SW Capitol Highway
• 5-7:30 pm Thursday, Nov. 2, Kenton Fire House, 8105 N. Brandon
• 5-7:30 pm Tuesday, Nov. 7, Southeast Uplift, 3524 SE Main.
Written comment to: residential.infill@portlandoregon.gov and/or City of Portland Bureau of Planning, Attn: RIP, 1900 SW 4th Ave., Suite 7100, Portland, OR 97201.

"The time is always right to do what is right."
—Martin Luther King Jr.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Resolve to make real change in 2016

It's been quite a month for demolitions and the politicking around them. First, the dread demo tax: United Neighborhoods for Reform (UNR) members spoke in favor of it at City Hall as one of many tools to stem the destructive and destabilizing forces of demolition citywide.

Local news station KGW ran this chart on home demos in Portland, showing
the increasing destruction from 2010 (data for 2015 remains incomplete).
Casual readers of this graphic can see that there were twice as many
demolitions last year than in 2010 and 2011. Note: The data does not capture
the "bulldozer remodels," also prevalent and on the increase. More stats here.
Predictably, members of the Development Review Advisory Committee, or DRAC—still smarting they weren't included in discussions of the tax before it went to council Nov. 25—came down hard against it. They sent emissary Claire Carder to wonder (at 1:58 here), "Is the city really undergoing loss of housing that is higher than ever before? I don't know. Is this the crisis, really?" Ignoring all evidence to the contrary, she also said, "Is there really a demolition crisis? We have numbers, but we don't really know what they mean."

With a bit of googling (and I'm sure Carder has more resources at her disposal, because DRAC works under the aegis of the Bureau of Development Services), I found the above chart showing the numbers of Portland's demolitions, with the year 2015 not fully reported yet. Bear in mind these "demolitions" don't include the "remodels" that have the effect of demolition.
Epidemic—what epidemic? DRAC's Claire Carder (left)
can't grasp what the demo numbers mean. Brian Emerick
of the city's esteemed Historic Landmarks Commission
coined Portland's "demolition epidemic" in July 2014.

Carder is the rep for the "neighborhood coalition land use committees" on DRAC. With nearly half of the city's neighborhood associations on board with the UNR resolution to curb demolitions, how is she forming her opinions?

Luckily, Peggy Moretti of Restore Oregon piped up to say, "We do believe it is an epidemic just by the escalating numbers that we have tracked." Further, she noted: "The demolition tax aligns with [Portland's] sustainability goals. It should hurt to dump that much in the landfill." The mill in Newberg that used to burn our old-growth homes closed last month; now all that classic Portland architecture and history will fill our landfill. Portlanders love to recycle, but the short-term investor-developers plying our neighborhoods don't.

If you watch the City Council proceedings, don't miss Paul Grove of the Home Builders Association (HBA), thoroughly stumped by questioning of Commissioner Nick Fish at 2:18. He later showed up—or a doppelgänger anyway—at the Dec. 1 meeting of the Residential Infill Project stakeholder advisory committee (RIP SAC), where he sighed and writhed on the sidelines when not poking his HBA brethren on the committee. He left at the half, presumably disgusted by the threat to business as usual.

It's time to show up and speak up

Speaking of the city's Residential Infill Project, its members soldier on to create improved guidelines for new construction. If demolitions continue to occur at such an increasing rate (and again, the chart above shows so), it may be better to shape what comes in their wake, and therefore disincentivize the destruction in the first place.

Hillary Dames of South Burlingame gets vocal and visual at the Dec. 1 meeting of the Residential Infill Project.
Join her and others demanding improvements in new development.
From the beginning, activists from South Burlingame have voiced concerns about the size and effect of new construction in their neighborhood (one project there is called the "Costco"). This time they brought their neighborhood land use chair, who said he heard (from the new neighbors themselves) and saw that the people buying the maximum build-outs were having a hard time integrating. Anecdotally, we've noticed that buyers of the new homes don't stay long. Buyers of older, original construction stay many years or decades, put down roots, and form lasting relationships with their neighbors and neighborhoods. Demolitions destabilize healthy, strong, and connected neighborhoods.

At the Dec. 1 meeting, during the 10-minute public comment period that followed the city's 2-hour comment period, activists from South Burlingame again made their points. Afterward, a member of the committee intimated that these problems might be unique to South Burlingame and not experienced by neighborhoods throughout the city. Residents of other neighborhoods used to sit and nod at the analysis and comments out of South Burlingame, feeling no need to stand up and reiterate, but that must change.

The committee needs to hear from every aggrieved neighbor and neighborhood to believe problems with new development occur citywide.

On Northeast Alameda, a vintage home (below) becomes
an eyesore and a safety hazard (above) courtesy
Everett Custom Homes.
There's the cue, dear readers. While making your resolutions for 2016, won't you resolve to take the time to tell the committee what you're seeing in your neighborhood, how you feel about it, and how it should change? If anything you will be inspired by the other neighbors, and hopefully by the work under way. Details for the next meeting of the committee are in the banner of this blog, where others also will be announced. For the Jan. 5 meeting public comment is being taken at the beginning of the meeting, or 6:10 p.m. to be exact. Or contact Julia Gisler (503-823-7624 or julia.gisler@portlandoregon.gov) for a schedule.

Wasting Portland for what?

As proof of how little the out-of-town outfits value the legacy, history, and quality of Portland's classic built environment, Everett Custom Homes now erases housing just to put the land up for sale. This in a city that recently declared a "housing emergency."

As elsewhere in other neighborhoods, Everett took down this home on Northeast Alameda, leaving a trash-ridden plot of land with an open trench next to the sidewalk.

Recently City Council heard from a man who because of his sight disability can't easily navigate construction sites or sidewalk closures. As with the continued lack of hazmat control at demo sites, lack of enforcement of building codes (this even came up at RIP SAC where city staff noticed their slide show was full of non-code compliant projects and yet no corrections occurred), and disregard for elemental safety precautions, one wonders who's calling the shots and who among our city leaders can and will stand up for Portland residents.

The last word on the demo tax

Maybe you're still wondering about that demo tax. Wonder no more. After its last presentation at City Hall in November, the mayor himself seemed to give up on it. Why else would he give the idea to DRAC for fine-tuning? These are the folks who can't make sense of a bar chart showing a rising number of demolitions, and who can't acknowledge the demolition epidemic first announced in summer 2014 by the city's own Historic Landmarks Commission.

Then we learned the demo tax is itself demolished. This means that more than ever, we need the demo moratorium to hit the pause button, do some fresh thinking, and ensure priorities align with action. We need more voices at the RIP SAC. And we need people on the front lines to protect the public from life-changing health hazards (read on).

Something's hard at work in your city, but it's the dark side and hard to see. This isn't Star Wars, but UNR is proud to be part of the Earth-bound resistance movement. We want to keep what's good in Portland, and build better.

Public safety's on us

Early next year, UNR, the Beaumont-Wilshire Neighborhood Association, and the Lead Safe America Foundation team up to screen a film on lead poisoning and to recruit activists who will help neighbors, especially kids, avoid exposure to hazardous materials during demolitions.

With demos spiking as they are (again, see graphic at top of this post), is this avoidable fallout reason why Johnny and Jane can't read? Could it be a contributing factor in Portland Public Schools' abysmal graduation rate? Come to the Hollywood Theatre on Feb. 29 to learn more and be the change you wish to see. Check the blog banner at top for details as we cement them.

Thank you to Central Northeast Neighbors for the grant that makes this effort possible.

Here's to a happy, healthy, and safer 2016!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Before we talk turkey, let's talk demo tax, and a more necessary anti-demo measure

The city has some ideas for curbing the rampant loss of viable
old-growth housing, and so does United Neighborhoods for Reform.
Illustration courtesy The NW Examiner by Jeff Cook.
Tomorrow City Council takes another stab at the mayor's proposed demolition tax, this time without the rebate for building multiple units. The rebate in the original proposal would have accelerated demolitions instead of reducing them, running counter to the tax's stated mission to alleviate the reduction in the diversity of housing stock and the "decreased ... availability of affordable housing within the City."

Along with the tax, we think the ongoing demolition epidemic, and the exponential, uncontrolled public exposure to hazardous materials, warrants serious action by city leaders.

While a temporary measure, a demolition moratorium would help the city hit the pause button on an overheated, even irrational housing market (now developers eliminate homes just to put the lots up for sale, actually subtracting units during a city-declared "housing emergency").

More important, a moratorium would give time and incentive for city staff and federal regulators to effectively protect people and the environment from hazmat during demolitions and prevent "irrevocable public harm," which is grounds alone for a defensible moratorium under Oregon law. The Oregonian recently exposed the extent of uncontrolled hazmat during demos in a multipart series and follow-up articles.

We look forward to a productive discussion.

When: 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, November 25
Where: City Hall chambers, 1221 S.W. Fourth Ave.
Who: Your elected leadership
Why: Support the demo tax, without the rebate for multiple units, and a demolition moratorium
How: If you can't make it downtown, send letters to council (contact info at right, scroll down) urging serious and meaningful anti-demolition measures; consider testifying (sign up beforehand just outside chambers) about the effects of demolition and if you believe the city has a moral responsibility to protect its people from exposure to hazardous materials during demolition

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

It's working

Commissioner Fritz worked hard to
ban smoking in parks. Hopefully she
 will tackle the even more dangerous release
of hazmat during demolitions. For more
kid-related concerns, read on.
When one of the weeklies refers to the "incessant teakettle shriek" over home demolitions, you know that we are making a difference. Antidemolition activists won't stop at at being heard; they want action, that is, an end to unnecessary demolitions of viable, affordable housing.

We will continue to protest at demo sites and post signs, attend meetings, and speak up for sustainable solutions and public safety, among other activities, to turn the tide away from nonsensical demos and toward more responsible growth.

Buyers of replacement homes are starting to feel the chill, too, because when a perfectly good house disappears just so a developer can make 20 percent (or more) profit, neighbors notice. And they can't help but mourn the loss of a home that contributed character, open space, mature trees, and allowed sunlight and privacy for neighboring properties.

The only way to quiet the storm is to, yes, stop demolishing.

Front lines are everywhere
Here we go again: Activists gear
up to dish on the demo tax
at City Hall on Oct. 14.

Recent discussions at City Hall and the Bureaus of Planning and Development Services show the challenges ahead.

A couple of weeks ago City Council got an earful about the demolition tax. While a sound idea, the tax needs quite a bit of fine-tuning to disincentivize the destructive, lucrative market out there for exploitive development. United Neighborhoods for Reform is actively involved in trying to shape the tax so it is effective and actually helps bolster funds for affordable housing (however, the irony of taxing the loss of affordable housing to build affordable housing is not lost on us).

On paper, the Residential Infill Project looks
promising. In practice, it may not be given the
time and resources to be effective.
The Residential Infill Project (RIP) soldiers on despite city staff's attempts to minimize the group's scope and meetings. At the "optional" meeting on Oct. 20 (not the only one) members were asked to "think" and "brainstorm" but solutions are much harder—and take more time—to grok.

RIP member Rod Merrick worried that the timeline does not allow for careful evaluation and iterations of making changes, but city staff brushed off the concern. It would be a shame if all these creative, powerful minds were brought together only to waste their potential.

DRAC member Hermann Colas:
What about the kids?
At last month's Development Review Advisory Committee (DRAC), member Hermann Colas wondered aloud after a presentation by senior planner Barry Manning where all the kids of the new wave of Portlanders would go play once their families moved into the proliferating high-rise apartment/condo buildings. Manning breezily answered that there was a small amount of footage required for open space per unit—but that it could be satisfied with a private balcony. "Go out and play kids—just don't run past the railing!" Imagine how easy it will be to bat for the fences from up there.

Maybe it will be best to plug kids into their screens, so they won't miss the nature that's disappearing around them. Every time a demo occurs, most if not all of the mature trees around the house are sent to the chipper. As RIP member Sarah Cantine said at the recent meeting, the bloated new houses overwhelm their own lots so that they are forced to lord over their neighbors' too.

Members of DRAC's demolition subcommittee and the Office of Neighborhood
Involvement's Paul Leistner (middle) convene late last month for a collective head scratching.
Finally, the DRAC's demolition subcommittee met Oct. 26 to begin review of how the new demo-delay rules are working. Again, Chairwoman Maryhelen Kincaid (left) had the chance to say, "These rules were never about stopping the demolitions." Heard that, Council? It was astonishing to see the folks there wrestle with how to reach the right person for giving notification of impending demolitions. When UNR was doing its outreach to neighborhood associations last year on behalf of the resolution, we right away encountered the many instances of out-of-date information maintained by the Office of Neighborhood Involvement. If the office is as unable or understaffed to do this important work, perhaps there is reason for it?

By the way, those new demo-delay rules are apparently so DRAConian that now there is a toolkit for neighborhood activists to help navigate them. Props go to those who helped craft it, and to those who dare use it.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Mayor's demolition tax clears the way for more destruction

Mayor Hales, shown at the first meeting
of the Residential Infill Project last month,
says he wants to reduce demolitions,
but his tax won't.
After the mayor polished up his version of a demolition tax late last week, loading it with exemptions and rebates that keep it from becoming the excellent anti-demo measure that it could be, United Neighborhoods for Reform (UNR) crafted a demo tax that's easier to understand and administer, and serves the intended goals of maintaining and supporting affordable housing.

It is:
$35,000 per demolition or major remodel

Join us 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14, at 1221 S.W. Fourth Ave. as we present this revised demolition tax to City Council and point out the problems with the mayor's version. After months of discussing how to curb demolitions and their damaging effects on neighborhoods, we are ready for action. A flat tax on demolitions and major remodels without any loopholes helps achieve that aim, especially if adopted with other measures.

Other disincentives to taking down viable affordable housing include effective abatement and control of hazardous materials at demolition sites, solid results from the Residential Infill Project (read on), mandatory deconstruction where demolition must occur, and a ban on lot splits and confirmations.

After seeing all the bungling of the demolition-delay rules adopted in spring, the city can't handle another cumbersome, ill-understood process. Bureau of Development Services staff are overloaded as it is, not financially able to enforce current complex permitting rules according to Council staff, and do not need to parse more labyrinthine code language that in the end does little to cure Portland's demolition blitz and likely will accelerate it.
Welcome home, Portland. Under the mayor's version of a demo tax, replacement houses will grow bigger.
All developers have to do is set aside a few rooms inside or detached from the replacement house, call it an additional living unit, and the tax doesn't apply. Replacement houses will become even bigger, and more houses will go down to make way for them. All the loopholes in the mayor's version of the tax practically ensure that no one will have to pay it. So much for progress.

Let's keep it simple: A house, or a majority of it, goes to the incinerator or landfill, a tax is paid for the privilege.

Let RIP roll with its mission

Planning chief Joe Zehnder (with mayoral staffer Camille
Trummer looking on) exudes optimism for the mission of
the Residential Infill Project at its first meeting. So why the
attempts to halve the meeting schedule and narrow the scope?
When Portlanders answered the call to serve on the stakeholder advisory committee for the Residential Infill Project (or RIP SAC), they were briefed on the scope, challenges, and time commitment expected for the project. Same with the outside consultants hired for the 18-month journey.

The idea for such a task force that would create new-construction guidelines came to the fore via the UNR demolition/development resolution, endorsed by 43 neighborhoods citywide.

The project launched with fanfare, then city staff suddenly halved the schedule for the meetings of the august group, and attempted to whittle its workload accordingly. It's almost as if—after that first meeting last month, when all members gave a short self-introduction—someone feared this group might accomplish something.

After objections raised by members of the group and others, meetings may be added back, and the scope re-expanded, but one wonders if the committee will be allowed to do what it is supposed to do. Just as ominously, staff kept reminding those assembled at the last meeting that the group only was meant to make recommendations, not actual changes, and few if any votes were expected.
Neighborhood activists show off signs of the times at
a meeting of the Residential Infill Project last week.

Planning chief Joe Zehnder stayed up until the public comment period at the second meeting last week, but not before emphasizing the goal of fast results. We couldn't agree more, and would add that well-thought-out results are just as important. Hopefully under a restored meeting schedule and scope, the group can deliver both, according to the initial plan.

After two hours of staff and facilitator holding forth at the last meeting, RIP SAC member Eli Spevak pointed out that if staff weren't so busy presenting administrative materials that could easily have been emailed or distributed as handouts, the group could get started. Yet later after more advising, the outside facilitator said, "We really want you guys to talk," but at that point the meeting had just 20 minutes to go.

Activists citywide fill the chairs to show they care.
Those last few minutes of the meeting were some of the liveliest. During the 10 minutes accorded for public comment, activists from South Burlingame and Multnomah Village covered almost all the bases for what's wrong with current Portland development. They said they would keep coming; we hope they do—and you, too. Submit your info here to learn about the next meetings.

Protection starts here

The first semiorganized effort to spread the word about control of hazardous materials during demolition occurred in Hosford-Abernethy, where an 1895 house is proposed for demolition at 2834 SE 20th Ave. If you receive the UNR flier, thank the person who delivered it and took the time to help neighbors protect themselves and their families from irreversible lifelong, and even life-threatening, illness.

For those who seek to downplay the potential effects of exposure to hazmat, note that these materials are regulated in renovation projects of 6 square feet or more but not for demolitions when they billow across the neighborhood in far greater amounts to settle in vegetable gardens and on kids' play equipment. The Centers for Disease Control says no amount of lead is safe in children. More background on hazmat and links to research are here.

See the next post for the flier itself. Submit your email at top right if you would like a printable pdf of it. The flier has a place to write in the address of the intended demolition at the top right. We recommend distributing copies to neighbors within 300 feet of the subject property, and up to 400 feet, the distance at which the feds have shown the demolition-related hazardous materials' presence in the air returns to background levels. That's about the width of eight standard R-5 lots in Portland.
A homegrown developer keeps it real in Northeast Portland.
Let's clone him.

Silver is golden

Local architect-designer Benjamin Silver recently bought a unique well-sited and -scaled home at 3865 N.E. Klickitat St. Where the short-term profiteers plying Portland would have smashed it in a second, Silver decided to make the home even better, and it represents a win for everyone. Read all about it here.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hard-won info released, and The O exposes the threat among us

This week United Neighborhoods for Reform sent out its flier for neighbors faced with demolitions including info on how to protect yourself and children from the assumed release of hazardous materials such as lead and asbestos. Neighbors can and should take small steps toward safety for themselves and their families because most demolitions involve uncontrolled release of lead and/or asbestos particles into the air. Read a well-rounded package of reporting from The Oregonian on this important public health and safety issue here:

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A gang of 26 has its work cut out for them; so do tree lovers

Tonight the task force on improved new-construction guidelines meets for the first time, at 6 p.m. in Room 2500A at 1900 S.W. Fourth Ave. For the record, the members of that group and their affiliations:

• Linda Bauer, East Portland Action Plan
• Sarah Cantine, Scott Edwards Architecture
• Alan DeLaTorre, Portland Commission on Disability
• Jim Gorter, Southwest Neighbors, Inc.
• John Hasenberg, Oregon Remodelers Association
• Marshall Johnson, Energy Trust of Oregon
• Emily Kemper, Manufactured Structures Board
• Douglas MacLeod, Homebuilders Association
• Mary Kyle McCurdy, 1000 Friends of Oregon
• Maggie McGann, Habitat for Humanity
• Rod Merrick, Merrick Architecture Planning
• Rick Michaelson, Neighbors West Northwest
• Mike Mitchoff, Premiere Properties
• Michael Molinaro, Southeast Uplift
• Danell Norby, Anti-Displacement PDX
• Douglas Reed, East Portland Neighborhood Office
• Vic Remmers, Everett Homes
• Brandon Spencer-Hartle, Restore Oregon
• Eli Spevak, Orange Splot Construction
• Barbara Strunk, United Neighborhoods for Reform
• Teresa St. Martin, Planning and Sustainability Commission
• Young Sun Song, Immigrant and Refugee Committee Organization
• David Sweet, Central Northeast Neighbors
• Eric Thompson, Homebuilders Association
• Garlynn Woodsong, Northeast Coalition of Neighbors
• Tatiana Xenelis-Mendoza, North Portland Neighborhood Services

The idea for such a task force, formally called the Residential Infill Project Stakeholder Advisory Committee (or the more evocative "RIP SAC" around here), first appeared as an elemental part of the United Neighborhoods for Reform (UNR) resolution, which garnered endorsements from 43 neighborhoods citywide. Needless to say, there are high hopes for the group and its work, even though there is irony that a developer whose style of construction is exactly the kind that's caused the uproar is among those chosen.

We also smiled seeing that the Home Builders Association has twice as many reps as any other body—perhaps a sign that Mayor Hales hasn't quite quit his lobbying job for those heavy hitters. Hopefully they are balanced out by the many solution-seeking, forward-thinking people on the list.

We will follow the process closely to ensure that neighbors and neighborhoods get what they need: responsible development that benefits everyone.

Be a hazmat hero

Even though we continue to keep pressing for meaningful change, most recently through meetings with staff of Mayor Hales and Commissioner Saltzman, UNR members do more than sit in chairs around tables.

Once we finalize our guide for affected neighbors living in the hazardous-materials fallout zone around demolitions, we will enlist activists to distribute it. If you have energy and time for an effort that will protect and promote public health and safety, submit your name, contact info, and neighborhood at top right. We will have a briefing to launch the effort. You could be on the front lines helping save neighbors, especially children, from the irreversible health effects caused by the uncontrolled release of lead and asbestos. Read here for more.

We look forward to launching this proactive, important campaign—and getting to know you!

If the tree code doesn't protect
significant trees such as these,
what does it do?
Growing discontent

The UNR resolution called out tree preservation as a goal for building a better Portland. Most sites where demos occur are cleared of every living thing, and any trees that are planted are tiny compared to what once grew there.

This issue came to a head this week with deforestation occurring in Southeast Portland, where a developer—Everett Custom Homes—has already harvested 100-year-old Douglas firs and now hopes to erase giant sequoias dating to the Civil War.

Scenes from those sites follow. It's not easy to look at, but it's graphic evidence of the work to be done in not only saving affordable, well-built housing but the mature tree canopy that occupies the same lot, pumping out oxygen and giving this city its "green" reputation. It's also evidence that people care enough to rally for our urban forest.

For more on the sequoias and how to get involved, read here.

At 3646 SE Martins St.:






WMD



The arborists were turned away Monday, but developer
Vic Remmers vowed to harvest the sequoias this week.
 At 2704 SE 41st Ave.:













Tree sitter Elizabeth Bennett is up there somewhere.



News crew arrives.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Neighbors see and tell it like it is

Love your neighborhood? Give us a sign.
Recently four people have reported the disappearance of Stop the Demolition of Portland Homes signs from their front yards. With the signs, neighbors exercise their freedom of speech, as for candidates or ballot measures, only for a cause closest to home.

The signs show what concerns early investors in a neighborhood—that treasured homes that have served generations of Portlanders should be allowed to stand and shelter many more. The signs put the word out to teardown developers: We see what you're doing, and there are plenty of less destructive ways to build a better Portland.

The signs show would-be buyers of replacement homes that neighbors mourn a loss of what made their neighborhood attractive in the first place. Many of the affected neighborhoods are appealing for their history, mature urban tree canopy, and unique, if often modest, architecture, usually built of now-rare old-growth materials. When all that goes to the incinerator or landfill, the neighborhood—and neighbors—take a hit.

It's a shame the signs are targets for trespass, and worse. Then again, they must be working! Truth will out. United Neighborhoods for Reform asks a modest donation ($5) to cover printing costs for the signs. To get yours, fill in and send the form at top right.

Apart from training security cameras on the signs or somehow locking them in place, maybe the best bet is to put them in a window or, better, get two.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Activists activate on the streets, online, and in City Hall

Born online, now on the street: Read on for action
by concerned Portlanders.
Neighbors are learning the ropes of the new demolition-delay rules that took effect, and succeeding in attempts to save affordable well-built housing. Appeals won by Eastmoreland, Brentwood-Darlington, and most recently Beaumont-Wilshire show that despite a cumbersome, ill-understood process Portlanders will go to bat for their neighborhoods. With the demolition delay as the only tool we have to counter rampant trash-and-build, neighbors don't seem to be afraid to use it.

Despite the 60-day delay, we likely still will lose homes, and that's why United Neighborhoods for Reform continues to monitor the formation and scope of the Residential Infill Project, which promises to establish new-construction guidelines related to footprint, setbacks, and so on. In particular, those working in the architecture, design, and construction industries who are sympathetic to renovation, reuse, preservation, and additions and ADU modifications of old-growth construction should apply to serve on the Stakeholder Advisory Committee (same link as above).

Activists rally against demolitions on July 10 in Southeast Portland.
Photo by Larry Clark.
While we keep fighting for hazmat control during demolitions, we're planning a safety education campaign for affected neighbors and tracking how the city will enforce the new state law requiring an asbestos survey before demolition. We're also keeping tabs on the Bureau of Development Services transition to oversight by Commissioner Dan Saltzman.

After all the consciousness raising, and as the Great House Harvest of 2013-2015 marches on, more Portlanders are joining in. Stop Demolishing Portland activists plan regular protests following last week's successful action at Southeast 50th and Division.

Other activists are tackling one of the biggest problems of all—and an ongoing incentive to demolition—at fixportlandzoning.com. One battle cry: "Truth in zoning."

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Infill expo shows the options

Mayor Charlie Hales says he loves the old houses too
at the infill expo hosted by the German American Society. 
Mayor Hales kicked off the June 4 industry event, saying all the right things about Portland's dwindling inventory of affordable well-crafted homes that have served generations—and could shelter many more if allowed to stand. The infill expo, with its crowd of people interested in creative, quality ways to provide housing, highlighted the many attractive and environmentally sound alternatives to demolition, whether it's building auxiliary dwelling units (ADUs), renovating homes, or crafting additions.

United Neighborhoods for Reform took part to show the damaging effects of demolition on neighbors and neighborhoods and what we are doing to curb or mitigate them.

Some scenes from the evening:

UNR steering committee members go one-on-one explaining anti-demolition efforts.

UNR works to stem the wasting of well-crafted, -sited, and -designed housing,
such as this unique 1928 home slated for demolition. As the sign points out, it's
not very Portland (historically, anyway) to throw away or, more likely, burn houses
just to make room for more expensive, much larger, and lower quality structures.

UNR members (from left) Barbara Kerr, Jim Gorter, Barb Strunk, Jim Brown,
and Janet Baker (obscured) talk with concerned neighbors at the infill expo.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Salem answers the SOS

Yesterday Senate Bill 705 passed the House, after collecting a yes from the Oregon Senate earlier this year. When implemented, it will require an accredited inspector to perform an asbestos survey before demolition. State leaders, in particular Sen. Michael Dembrow, heard out concerned neighbors at a constituent coffee here in Portland and went to work to help protect people from some of the hazardous materials that billow uncontrolled from demolition sites.

He's not done yet, saying lead is next.

With these protections, public health and safety will be better assured. According to federal studies, dust from demolitions travels up to 400 feet, and and until now city leaders were simply powerless to control it, or care. Luckily, we have state leaders looking out for us.

Sold for $815,000 and set for demolition: This Northeast
Portland home stands in the way of big profits.
If demolitions are curbed altogether, the hazardous materials problem eliminates itself. Imagine the lead dust that will emanate from the site of this slated demolition. This showcase house, built in 1928 on Northeast Alameda, probably has been painted numerous times inside and out over the past 87 years, many of those years before 1978 when each can of paint contained 15 pounds of lead. Pulverized during demolition, lead and other hazardous materials are free to waft into yards, lungs, and bodies. Children in particular are susceptible to irreversible damage from lead, with the Centers for Disease Control decreeing that no amount of lead is considered safe in kids.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Anyone who recycles would vote for deconstruction

When United Neighborhoods for Reform (UNR) members made the rounds of neighborhood association meetings late last year to present the demolition/development resolution, we talked about how if a house has to be demolished, deconstruction is the way to do it. For many reasons: environmental, a robust market for reuse, preservation of quality and now-rare materials, increased job creation, and reduced exposure to hazardous materials such as lead and asbestos.

Without deconstruction, we're throwing it all way—and sending hazmat dust
across the neighborhood in the process.
One neighbor rallied endorsement for the resolution from his neighborhood association based on the deconstruction element alone. In all the dozens of other neighborhood association meetings citywide, no one ever raised an objection to deconstruction.

Deconstruction and hazmat control have always been part of our effort and stand in line with Portland's desired reputation as a "green" and healthy place to live. Recycling is so important to city leadership and citizens that a goal was set for 75 percent participation by 2015, this year.

Shouldn't developers play their part?

Instead of continuing to put thousands of affordable homes in landfills or, more likely, biomass burners, let's give others a chance to use the old-growth materials in creative, quality projects. With the homes being demolished an average age of 87 years old, the materials have withstood the test of time and could serve future generations. Character counts, to the reuse deconstruction industry and its growing legion of customers, and Portland's innovative deconstructionists are ready and able to lead the way.

According to the Bureau of Planning's Shawn Wood, the region's landfill is already about a quarter full of construction- and demolition-related waste.

As attractive as deconstruction is (the Rebuilding Center's Shane Endicott noted that deconstruction meets four of the city's goals, but mechanical demolition none), we are up against powerful interests, ones that have an aversion to assuming the costs of environmental responsibility—even though, according to Bureau of Development Services staff, deconstruction only costs about $3,000 more than mechanical demolition—as well as public safety from their wasteful activities. Note, too, how handily they rolled back newly instituted charges for cutting down mature urban trees and delayed parks fees.

Activists ring the table at the last meeting of the Deconstruction
Advisory Group to support mandated deconstruction if demolition must occur.

When we heard there was a plan afloat for taxpayers to pay developers to deconstruct, UNR responded. Supporters packed the last meeting of the Deconstruction Advisory Group, but it already seemed that there could and would be no change to the developer-driven proposal on the table, heading to City Hall this Wednesday, June 3. Please tell your leaders you want to see deconstruction, if demolition must occur, paid for by those profiting from the redevelopment.

You are invited:

When: 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 3
Where: City Hall chambers, 1221 S.W. Fourth Ave.
Who: Your elected leadership
Why: Call a stop to the wasting of quality resources; demand deconstruction, with an accelerated timeline for implementation
How: If you can't make it downtown, send letters to council (contact info at right, scroll down); show up to bear witness; consider testifying (sign up before 2 p.m.) if you recycle and believe that repurposing of quality building materials is the right thing to do and a cost to be borne by developers as the price of access to this city's finite resource

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

If you could clone yourself, now would be the time to do it

Check the banner for opportunities to show you care about rampant home demolitions, now entering their third record-breaking year.

Several meetings occur at one time on one day, so let's divide and conquer, or at least let neighbors' voice be counted.

Here's something you can do right now that will make a difference—and from the comfort of your own keyboard. E-mail or write (info in right margin, scroll down) your city commissioners and mayor in support of funding for the work to revise new-construction guidelines (again, Item 2 of our resolution, without trees). It's in the mayor's proposed budget, but hasn't been voted on or approved by council as a whole. I don't know why it will take upwards of $500,000 to revise city regulations on items such as setbacks, height, and footprint, but consultant studies are expensive and hopefully we taxpayers get our money's worth.

We need this work funded to further protect open space, mature tree canopy, and affordable, well-built housing in our neighborhoods. The endorsements from 43 neighborhood associations—which keep coming in, by the way—show people care about these losses and want more of a say in the future of great places they helped create.

A city grows green: Neighborhoods continue to endorse United Neighborhoods 
for Reform's resolution to help Portland neighborhoods. Welcome,
University Park and Mt. Scott-Arleta!

We continue to move forward on all fronts. For example, UNR's hazmat team was instrumental helping bring Senate Bill 705 forward, and now it's passed the Senate and headed toward the House this Wednesday. Even if city leaders can't act on public safety (the EPA's Kim Farnham called Portland's recently instituted hazmat measure "voluntary"—and UNR agrees), state leaders will. Thank you to all involved.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

City puts on a reel deal

Moviegoers pack the Kennedy School gym Wednesday for a festival of local films.

Except for the odd lecture, the festival of local films that screened Wednesday, April 29, at the Kennedy School focused on Portland's growth, including many of the pains and opportunities involved. Some highlights of the festival—and links to watch online—are listed below.

The city also showcased a few of its public-funded film projects (two are online here and here), which herald the large new apartment buildings recently built around town. Given the loss of thousands of affordable homes citywide, these apartments increasingly are about the only option available for many residents now and in the future. Still, this newly built landscape begs for more creativity and quality—trademarks of past Portland architecture.

Perhaps the city could hold a contest as it did to improve "skinny houses," only this time for designs of apartment buildings with character, ones that look interesting and contribute to their surroundings, with, say, public plazas and greenery?

Along with United Neighborhoods for Reform's movie of what Portland loses and gains in these heavy demo days, highlights of the evening included:

Kunal Mehra's Elegy to Doug 35: 75 years to grow, 2.5 hours to erase.

A capacity crowd watches and learns.
The Coalition for a Livable Future's Equity Shares Project: "Sometimes I think the landlord doesn't do the repairs because I can't speak English."

Karina Adams and Lizette Cosko's Birds Striking Building Windows: When buildings go up, birds go down. New ideas can save them.

Ifanyi Bell and Kathleen Holt's Future : Portland: One of Portland's native sons talks with those who came before, and stayed.

Ruth Ann Barrett's In My Backyard: Short but not so sweet.

The Portland Chronicle's Growing/Vanishing: Title tells all.

Greg Baartz-Bowman and George Wolters' Den$ity: In two high-profile cases, neighbors win appeals of contested projects. Or do they.

Chris Hornbecker, Digital One, and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance's Roll On, Oregon: The world looks better on two wheels.

Karl Lind's The Friends of Memorial Coliseum: When good buddies grow old, you take care of them.