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.

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

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Scenes from the summit show that many care about record-breaking loss of Portland homes

We couldn't set up the chairs fast enough at the United Neighborhoods for
 Reform gathering on April 9. That's UNR member John Sandie
up front at the podium describing efforts to enforce control of hazmat
during demolitions. Progress has yet to be made at the city level,
but state leaders are acting (see next post for details and link to news story).
UNR's Barb Strunk talks about neighborhoods' loss
of affordable housing, drawing on two years of hard-won data.
UNR's Al Ellis emcees the proceedings, which drew
Portland neighbors from 8 to 80.
Restore Oregon's Brandon Spencer-Hartle talks about his group's involvement
in the issue and tools, such as the conservation easement, that can help
homeowners protect their homes.

Friday, April 24, 2015

It takes greenbacks to make Portland greener

The busy week ahead starts Monday with a rousing forum on budget issues including the mayor's request for the task force to improve new-construction guidelines (basically Item 2 of our resolution minus the trees). Please show up to support this force and the proposed funding to make it happen. It's our hope that the task force is an equitable, reputable group of people dedicated to revising rules for such new-home parameters as height, footprint, mass, and setbacks to ensure development fits better into an established neighborhood, and contributes an amount of open space, including room for mature urban tree canopy (existing or future), similar to what its neighboring properties do. Access to blue sky, the feel of sunshine on your face, and the ability to grow abundant gardens are just a few things that make this city great.

Details on the forum plus two more, May 7 and May 20, are here. If you can't make it to one of the events, be sure to let City Council know you support the proposal and funding to help new construction fit in better with its surroundings.

United Neighborhoods for Reform gathered an SRO crowd on April 9 for Summit IV, the first
At Eighth and Failing, a developer digs in.
few of which resulted in the resolution now driving development reform on several fronts. At the most recent summit, we enlisted recruits for, and identified the several major areas of, concerns with the current demolition trend, from deconstruction to hazmat control to lot-splitting, to name a few. These work groups create the basis for action ahead.

At last hazmat control has drawn serious attention from serious people, with state leaders acting on it in Salem. They're (and we're) not waiting for Portland to realize its voluntary program is meaningless and does nothing to protect neighbors, proven as recently as this week when Peter Kusyk's crew started demolishing the church at Northeast Eighth Avenue and Failing Street without so much as a lead-abating hose in sight.

The charge for justice

City Council gets an earful about
the unfairness of appeal fees at its
April 22 session.
While we keep trekking to City Hall, there's still plenty of change to occur at the ground level. Another encouraging sign came this week from the city auditor's and ombudsman's offices, which brought a proposal to Council to reduce appeal fees. The advance notice of the proposal mentioned that one appeal fee was "over $1,300," a reference to the newly instituted fee for neighbors seeking demolition delay. The $1,318 is nonrefundable; it only buys the chance to try to save a home from the landfill.

The auditor and ombudsman's lineup of strong, compelling supporters gave testimony that gave Council pause (turns out it was the easier day of the week, considering what happened Thursday). Some highlights from the appeal-fee hearing:

The League of Women Voters representative said a sound appeals system helps with "greater awareness of shortcomings in city policies and decision making."

Former Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder, in reciting his story of wrong done, referred to a city bureaucracy that was "arrogant and fearful."

The National Lawyers Guild representative said that the chance to be heard was a valuable tool in reinforcing people's faith in the system.
Rex Burkholder (left) and Dante James leave
City Hall on Wednesday after
testifying in support of reduced appeal fees.

Dante James of the Portland Office of Equity and Human Rights talked about his years of processing appeals as the code hearings officer in Denver, where the cost to file is nothing and therefore the appeals system is available to all.

Gregory Frank, Portland's own code hearings officer, described his job and, when it came to the question of what was a fair charge for an appeal, mostly answered by quoting another Northwesterner, the longest-serving Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas:
"The liberties of none are safe unless the liberties of all are protected."

A nominal fee or, as Denver does, charging nothing for an appeal helps ensure what James called important elements of a fair and functioning government: transparency, accessibility ("for everybody—for residents of this city"), and accountability. Without these elements, it's hands behind a curtain, little trust in leadership and staff, and fertile ground for corruption—and revolution. Speaking of, isn't it time we saw some candidates inspired to serve the interests of Portland and Portlanders?

Now for some decent exposure

Come on out 6:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 29, for a film festival shining a light on Portland's evolution. The movie King resident Fred Lifton made for the antidemolition cause will be screened, with a Q&A following, at McMenamins Kennedy School gym, 5736 NE 33rd Ave.

The latest installment of The City Lights focusing on
antidemolition issues included (from left) Fred Leeson,
Sara Long, Bob McCullough, Jack Bookwalter, and Carol McCarthy.
On the smaller screen, it looks like UNR, its members, supporters, and effort (and often all three), will continue to serve as the semiregular cast of The City Lights show on Channel 11. The most recent episode, on April 17, featured Eastmoreland and Multnomah neighborhood association activists along with UNR members and the Architectural Heritage Center's Fred Leeson. The show runs from 9 to 9:30 p.m. Fridays; check the banner of this blog for the next date to tune in.

Finally, protecting local heritage and affordable housing makes a real fashion statement.