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.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Talk should lead to action

South Burlingame activist Robin Harmon reminds the
stakeholder committee of the project's original mission.
Thank you to all who heeded the call and turned up at the last regular meeting of the Residential Infill Project. Another meeting's coming right up this week, and hopefully many more will attend then, too, and voice concerns over what's happening in their neighborhoods and how we count on seeing improvements in the built landscape.

It will take as many eyes and ears as possible on this group to ensure it achieves the intended outcome. At the January meeting a city-hired consultant from San Francisco piled on a list of "draft principles" meant to guide the discussion, but in the ensuing disagreements about the usefulness of the principles and the way they seemed to derail the proceedings it was clear that considering a developer's return on investment (as one draft principle encouraged) pointed participants in a different direction from the original mission of the project (see above). Maybe the Home Builders Association got that one inserted.

At the Jan. 5 meeting of the Residential Infill Project, Portland's chief
planner Joe Zehnder (right) takes in comment from Jack Bookwalter,
a retired city planner from Sonoma, Calif., who explained how if a house
there straddled two lots, those lots were considered merged in perpetuity.
Similar lot-straddling homes in Portland, under current "rules," easily
attract, and succumb to, trash-and-build developers.
Such "mission creep" gets in the way of accomplishing what needs to get done. It seems the closer the committee gets to making decisions, the more roadblocks are put in its way. Case in point: much talk about—and whole meetings devoted to—alternative housing options and ADUs. As fun as it is to envision creative ways to use the most precious, finite resource we have (land), seems like the focus should first shift to fixing the problems we have, the problems that gave rise to the Residential Infill Project in the first place.

That means improving guidelines for new construction that typically goes up after demolitions of well-built quality homes—so, looking at setbacks, size, and height to keep the monsters at bay. Nailing these parameters frees developers to get with their architects and make better buildings. It's hard, but Portland is worth it.

If the project can manage the task of improving such technical standards for new construction and there's time left over, by all means delve into the creative housing ideas. That's gravy for the committee after some grindingly long evenings, and it's a gift for the developers to have such an august group brainstorming on their behalf.

Now for something Comp-letely different

Portlanders wait to give their 2 minutes
of testimony on the Comp Plan on Jan. 7
at Self Enhancement, Inc.
The last City Council hearing for public testimony on the Comp Plan drew so many people that a second session had to be added. Many showed up to convey specific opinions on specific properties; others showed up to opine generally on the evolution of Portland.

Before the microphone opened to the masses, Commissioner Steve Novick tried to head off a barrage of negativity (video clip here, with transcript), suggesting that Portlanders will have to tolerate the march of low-quality new development in their neighborhood just as people have had to deal with rationing and sending people off to the front lines during wartime.

Commissioner Steve Novick (left) preps to talk about life
during wartime while Commissioner Amanda Fritz and
Mayor Charlie Hales chat before a long night of listening.
He forgets: Wartime rationing ends, but these buildings will be with us forever. And also, the draft and rationing during World War II (his reference) were perceived as necessary actions for the common good—and people bought into them because they saw their value in securing or maintaining freedom, or stopping genocide. A higher principle, in other words.

But to put up with poorly constructed, and sometimes not even code-compliant, buildings to help mostly out-of-town developers line their pockets? Commissioner Novick: Whose side are you on?