What UNR does, and why

Portland grassroots group United Neighborhoods for Reform seeks to stem the demolition of viable, affordable housing. 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; in 2017 on May 17; in 2018 on Feb. 1; and many dates since.

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

Monday, October 31, 2016

In runup to Halloween, planners release scariest trick of all

Portland prescient: If only all neighbors knew what planners
have in mind for the city's future. RIP city indeed.
The city's Joe Zehnder says
the RIP proposal won't
help with affordability. 
After months of discussion and open houses, we waited for the changes to the recommendations coming out of the Residential Infill Project (RIP), which were supposed to incorporate public input and—we hoped—reduce demolitions, an original goal of the project. That's not what happened, as the planners ignored the input and chose instead to recommend rezoning huge swathes of the city—64 percent of the east side alone—a move that promises to exponentially increase the destruction.

It's still true, as Portland's chief planner, Joe Zehnder, said at an East Portland open house in July, that the proposal won't help with affordability. Again: According to its own drafters, this proposal will not help with affordability. The frustration out there for tenants and homeowners alike looking to gain or maintain a foothold in the market is real, and the last several years of record numbers of teardowns has made the situation worse. The market has never built affordable housing on its own accord, and it never will. We would have seen some by now.

A sign of the times shows the proposed "overlay" for what it is.
As we gear up to tell City Council what a bunch of poor ideas they're about to consider on Nov. 9 and 16 (please join us, and pipe up if you can attend), let's keep pressing for our mission. It's simple: Reduce demolitions. Control hazardous materials if demolition must occur.

Granted, the RIP isn't an all-out failure. It got people talking, and invested, in our city's future. Far more people now know about FAR (Floor Area Ratio). Many more people are alerted to the potential changes afoot. Ultimately, it showed the prevailing winds among our leadership and city staff. And it certainly showed the need to ask that the concerns and well-being of local stakeholders and residents take priority over short-term and usually out-of-town profiteers. More of the same years of record-breaking demolitions won't give us needed affordable housing (especially while erasing it from our neighborhoods); why should we give the nod to more?

Planner Noré Winter came to town in mid-October
talking about his work to help cities grow. His big
question when it came to RIP was whether the
recommendations enhance the unique housing
that we have. 
Waves of people are waking up to the economic and environmental realities of build at all costs, as rents and home prices ratchet up along with the pace of new construction, and the air and Earth are dusted with lead and asbestos. The wholesale loss of mostly modestly sized and affordable homes must stop, and the neighbors and environment protected from irreversible effects of uncontrolled hazmat.

This Halloween, let RIP RIP (rest in peace), and leave the pro-demolition forces behind as we craft a safer, more sustainable city.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Winter comes with inspiration

While the Planning Bureau fine-tunes the recommendations out of the Residential Infill Project to have them better reflect what neighbors want, a celebrated urban planner comes to share with Portlanders how other cities have kept their character and their faith that new development can be an asset to the place where it rises. 

Man with a plan: Noré Winter protects
and inspires pride of place.
As we've recently seen in Portland, that's rarely been the case. The record numbers of demolitions also have involved so many unregulated emissions of hazmat that more news outlets are taking note. How long until we live in Superfund sites?

Noré Winter crisscrosses the country spreading a sustainable message. He's helped other cities protect resources such as affordable old-growth housing and buildings and at the same time designed improved guidelines for new construction. (Education break: Here's an article on why people love old buildings, a lot of which also applies to homes.)

Mr. Winter will discuss his experiences helping fast-growing cities plan for growth while protecting existing single-family housing. His comments will suggest alternatives to the recent recommendations of the Residential Infill Project in moderating scale of new builds in our neighborhoods.

Sound good? Instead of shaking your head at the arrival of another trackhoe down the block, get inspired by some fresh thinking beyond teardowns and demolitions from 6:30 to 8:30 Monday, Oct. 17, at the White Stag Block, University of Oregon Portland campus, main event room (142/144), 70 N.W. Couch. It's free, but please register.

After the contentious open houses over the summer when the public sensed the profit-driven basis for planners' first try at capturing the intent of the Residential Infill Project, local planners have their work cut out for them to create measures that better fit the original mission of the task force. Over Winter's 30 years in the field, and projects in 48 states, he has done work noted for its successful implementation and ability to create a climate for investment. Good development benefits everyone, and its environs.

All these months, activists were told that the Residential Infill Project was meant to reduce demolitions and address issues of scale; unfortunately, the first ideas out of the project would accelerate teardowns. Perhaps many of Portland's planners are insulated from this destructive trend; for instance, the director of Portland planning lives in Irvington, a neighborhood largely protected from demolition development.

It's all the more reason to be writing those letters, submitting comment, and appearing at City Council. If they don't hear from us, they're only hearing one side of the story, presented by the people who can afford paid lobbyists out of their profits.

Portland Together presents the Noré Winter event, with help from United Neighborhoods for Reform, Portland Coalition for Historic Resources, individual donors, Architectural Heritage Center, Restore Oregon, and the University of Oregon Preservation Department.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Who let the unicorns out

Sunnyside chair Tony Jordan (left) goes through the motions
at a neighborhood meeting at Southeast Uplift on Aug. 11.
This week Sunnyside Neighborhood Association joined King in voting in favor of replacing their neighborhoods' single-family homes with multiunit housing. Those neighborhoods feature many unique homes built of old-growth materials, but if the land under them increases exponentially in value they won't stand a chance.

This after a presentation from Portland for Everyone, which pays people to go out to the neighborhoods to share a utopian vision of housing for all. Their PowerPoint shows quality, creative architecture of the kind that usually isn't built anymore, and likely would be replaced with bigger, new construction with vastly superior income-earning potential. 

Portland planning chief Joe Zehnder at last month's East Portland open house touting the similarly flawed Residential Infill Project admitted the multiunit housing slated to replace single-family homes was assumed to be rentals for Portland residents, not projects for them to own. Turning people into long-term tenants works great for landlords, but a Metro study shows that's not what most Portlanders want

As we've seen under the city's current demolition-favorable policies, and in the last few years of record-breaking numbers of demolitions, seniors, minorities, veterans, and low-income people will have to make yet another exodus if Portland for Everyone has its way. So many already have been displaced in the rush to create "market-rate" housing. With the ready cash that developers have at their disposal, ordinary Portlanders will be hard-pressed to outbid them and buy even modest homes.

Many neighbors only have to look beyond their property line to see the kind of developers plying Portland, and the impact-heavy products they typically throw up after trashing a vintage property, but here's a video refresher just in case. Instead of modestly sized projects on what would usually be a lot for one home, Portland for Everyone advocates for multiunit buildings, up to octo-plexes, where all single-family homes now stand. 

The market in Portland is increasingly controlled by nonlocal, even Wall Street, interests, which necessarily have little oversight or concern for the property and the community where the investments occur. It's all about the rent checks.

At the Sunnyside meeting, you could almost feel the befuddlement in the room as most of the neighbors who spoke up voiced concern for loss of trees and permeable surfaces for handling runoff, open space, and the ability to age in place, among other issues. As the Portland for Everyone proposal sailed through a yes vote, it seemed not even its presenters were happy with how it went down. Maybe it felt yucky to ignore the divergent voices in the room, or to have a board that already knew how it would vote, and got it done. 

Still, I was happy to share the tools United Neighborhoods for Reform (UNR) has developed to counter the loss of homes (the Neighbor Pledge) and to help people protect themselves and their families from known toxins during demolitions.

The Sunnyside presentation's subtext of "We love you Portland—now change" begs the question: Why move to a place so unsuited to one's ideals instead of accepting and trying to understand a city's history, including its built landscape and the people who call it home? Wouldn't it be easier to live in a place that was less developed and therefore more moldable, that had plenty of open space to test and execute the idea of a zoning free-for-all? How about picking a place to live based on its existing appeal, and helping to protect those appealing features?

Real density proponents always have Manhattan.

The group sponsoring Portland for Everyone is the former environmental group 1000 Friends of Oregon. 1000 Friends may be a friend to the state, but not to Portland's old-growth resources. That includes the houses made of durable materials, and the mature urban tree canopy that typically accompanies them. Why would a group proud of its environmental leanings endorse a rezoning that involves even more demolitions and the uncontrolled release of hazardous materials such as lead and asbestos?

When the Portland for Everyone train rolls into your neighborhood, be sure to catch the slide show that includes great architecture (if that was what was being built today, UNR probably would not exist), a pro forma based on a $250k lot (do tell where), and even a still from Happy Days. Yes, the Fonz lived over the garage—and he still can under current zoning code. We all want happier days here again, but looking beyond the unicorns and rainbows, it's going to take a lot more than feel-good proselytizing to fix Portland.

Let's start by saving houses.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Talking points come in the nick of time

Neighbors pack Tabor Space on June 28 to hear a vision of the city
that came out of the Residential Infill Project. Overheard
outside afterward: "Honey, are you ready to move out of Portland yet?"
Many have spoken up at the open houses held so far to review the Bureau of Planning's recommendations that came out of the becoming-infamous Residential Infill Project (RIP). This week brings two opportunities, from the neighborhood office in East Portland to the German American Society, Northeast 57th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard. Check the banner for more dates and details to make your concerns known.

Speaking of concerns, United Neighborhoods for Reform (UNR) developed a set of talking points to keep the conversation going, and in favor of viable, existing housing. Some highlighted excerpts, with background following:

 The RIP Process

·      The RIP Stakeholder Advisory Committee was supposed to be a balanced group representing varied interests. Instead, the RIP scope/process was hijacked by developers, “housing advocates” and moneyed interests who used it as a platform to create more opportunities to pad their profits by encouraging demolitions and building many more homes unaffordable to 90% of existing Portland residents.

·      Essential analysis and modeling has not been done by our “green” city to predict the economic, neighborhood and significant environmental impacts of the proposal and whether any part of the BPS plan would produce the original desired results. The burdens and costs of this proposed development will fall on current residents.

·      Adequate infrastructure of streets, sidewalks, sewers, public transportation and traffic management does not exist to support the increased density. The RIP process is seriously flawed by not including input, available to the public, from transportation, environmental services and other city staff responsible for infrastructure planning.

“Affordable” Housing

·      There is no evidence that the proposed plan will result in “affordable” housing and reduce displacement. There is, however, strong recent evidence that new construction results in significantly increased housing unit prices. Building more units will not decrease the price of the units.

City planner Sandra Wood makes some power points at
the RIP open house on June 28 in Southeast Portland.
·      Truly affordable housing for those with lower incomes requires ongoing governmental subsidies. This Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) plan is not a solution. To argue the BPS plan will solve Portland’s housing crisis is inaccurate.

·      Stating that more construction will result in “affordable” housing is a smokescreen created by developers looking for more construction opportunities and profits.

Increased Density

·      The City Council proposal, supported by BPS, to open up huge areas of the city to radically increased density (density that is greater than currently allowed in zone R2) without any modeling is irresponsible.  Increasing density a quarter-mile from Centers, Corridors and frequent transit and Max stations includes most of the city and is not necessary.

At the Kenton Firehouse on July 6, planning chief Joe Zehnder
takes a turn touting the current proposal making
the rounds citywide. Neighbors have debated its merits, intent,
and value through three open houses since mid-June.
·      The city’s Growth Scenarios Report states there is adequate vacant and undeveloped land to meet the city’s projected growth needs twice over until 2035 without increasing density in existing stable neighborhoods.

·      If the city wants to increase density in single-family residential neighborhoods a zone change and proper public input/process is required.

·      Indiscriminate infill density increases will greatly accelerate the demolition trend, resulting in the loss of many additional viable, relatively affordable houses.

Lot Divisions

·      Lot divisions involving historic narrow lots should be allowed in R2.5 only. 
·      Allowing lot divisions throughout the city will stimulate many more demolitions of viable houses.

And finally: 

UNR Supports

·      The only portion of this proposal we can support is the plan for substantially reduced house size based on the size of the lot, using the tool of Floor Area Ratio (the total square feet of the building related to the total square feet of the lot).  However, an improvement to this proposal would be: house height, size and setbacks to be determined by the local neighborhood context, in contrast to the one-size-fits-all neighborhoods concept proposed by this plan. One zoning code does not fit all the varied areas of the city.

The RIP was initiated by Mayor Hales because of the following concerns of residents, none of which are adequately addressed by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability proposal resulting from this project:
o   Demolitions of viable, relatively affordable houses.
o   Construction of large, out of context, expensive replacement houses.
o   Lot divisions that result in demolitions and the replacement by two or more out of scale houses.
o   Threatened loss of cherished neighborhoods.

Protect Portland

·      Many of our neighborhoods are vibrant, walkable, healthy places to live—the reason so many people want to live in Portland. Why destroy these neighborhoods in the name of density and developers’ profits?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Summer politicking ready to sizzle

Here come the dog days of summer. And here comes a huge reason to rouse out of that chaise lounge, starting tomorrow (Tuesday) night.

At last the recommendations by way of the Residential Infill Project move to the fore in a series of open houses to be staged this summer around the city (see banner above for details). The first open house, at the Multnomah Arts Center in mid-June, drew so many activists demanding to be heard that organizers had to change the event format away from neutralizing small-group discussion to an open Q&A.

This is the time to stand up for yourselves and your neighborhood. Entrenched and well-financed players stand ready to increase demolitions across the city.

That's why we're here.
It's a shame because the Residential Infill Project—an idea that came out of United Neighborhoods for Reform's resolution—engaged some people who are deeply committed to improving new construction while also protecting affordable housing in the neighborhoods. The Residential Infill Project slogged through long evenings not without some drama—the rep from the Home Builders Association threw a tantrum and walked out of one event, and someone in the pro-developer crowd once called some of the other members "racist" (which really stings given the mass exodus of diverse people and seniors from the close-in neighborhoods under current demo-favorable city policies).

A few of the recommendations tackle the original intent for the effort, providing new guidelines for scale such as height and volume of new homes. If they work, they could put those McMansions on a diet and, better, reduce the financial incentive of knocking down a modestly sized home that was accessible to many more buyers. Living smaller is a great, green way to live, too.

However, the vast majority of the rest of the recommendations (starting on Page 12 of the Bureau of Planning doc) amount to a rezoning of existing neighborhoods that puts thousands more homes in the cross-hairs. Is your neighborhood a profit center, or is it a place to live? As one activist attendee of a meeting last spring with incoming Mayor Ted Wheeler noted, "Once the market starts to dictate a community, it ceases to be a community."

The 43 neighborhood associations listed at right already have indicated they want more of a say in their future. Developers and city staff can trust us Portlanders—after all, didn't we lay the groundwork for some years of astonishing profits for (usually out-of-town) business interests? We are up to the task of self-determination, and—given the hounds at the door and what they have in mind for us—we're going to need it.
Heather Flint Chatto talks about tools that came out of the
forward-thinking, problem-solving Division Design Initiative
at last week's Citylove event.

Citylovers get serious

At Friday's gathering called Citylove, activists fighting demolition along Southeast Belmont, monitoring the city's Mixed Use Zone activity, and dispelling density myths with sound number-crunching countered the idea that it's necessary to raze Portland to rise it.

KGW, a local station, dug in and showed that Portland has plenty of vacant, buildable land ripe for development without demolishing a thing.

Moss doesn't lie

Fallout from hazardous materials remains one of the biggest, avoidable impacts of demolition. The Forest Service recently reported that moss growing in Kenton tested off the charts for lead, with no glass factories nearby to blame. Instead, as noted in the update to the Portland Mercury story, all signs point to demolition of a small house that occurred across the street as the source for the dispersed lead. (The actual data: The Kenton sample tested at 129 milligrams of lead per kg of dried moss; other readings of moss citywide tested between 2 and 6 mg/kg.)

Hazardous-materials fallout is important even if, as indicated by the Bureau of Development Services's Nancy Thorington, head of a city subcommittee tasked with managing demolition impacts, the city is far more worried about provoking developers' lawyers than it is about permanent health effects and environmental toxicity among Portland's people. That may change given the litigation already starting after moss samples registering high in toxins early this year led scientists to largely unregulated emissions from glass factories.

We are grateful for the continuing interest and exposure by media outlets and other fact-seekers on all these issues.

At the grass-roots, supporters of the antidemolition effort keep multiplying, and are increasingly anxious to bring about more beneficial development that becomes an asset to the neighborhood.

Friday, April 22, 2016

"Superman's not coming"

Erin Brockovich delivers hard news with a heart at the April 2 Air Forum.
So said activist Erin Brockovich at the Air Forum earlier this month, as she issued a "what are you waiting for" challenge and exhortation to local activists to do what must be done to stop hazardous emissions where we live and breathe. United Neighborhoods for Reform has long publicized the lack of control, oversight, and responsibility in this impact of demolition; mechanical demolition spreads hazmat up to 400 feet from a demo site, dusting everything and everyone in its wake. Recent "hot spots" of toxic emissions in Portland have brought the issue of air quality to the forefront, and hundreds more responsive Portlanders to the cause of clean air.

The good news, according to Brockovich, is that we are equal to the task of stopping polluters among us. "Tag—you're it," she said, adding that "ensuring a safe future is their [our leaders' and environmental agencies'] job. And you are going to make them do their job." Actually it was more like "make. them. do. their. job." You get the feeling Brockovich is good at speaking up for herself and others.

She used that same emphasis in scripting a critical path by saying that "agencies need to hear from you and Don't. Back. Off."

"We've all been lulled into a false sense of security," she said. "We're beginning to change."

Her kid and grandson live here so hopefully she keeps tabs on our progress to safeguard public health and safety, and to effectively help our leaders and city staff do their job.

More art from the Air Forum, courtesy of Eastside Portland Air Coalition:

Seth Woolley of Portland Clean Air tells the tragicomic story
of digging for the truth on toxic emissions at the local level.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Last minute, but not to be missed: "MisLead" heads to Clinton Street on April 11

United Neighborhoods for Reform (UNR) screened Portlander Tamara Rubin's film, MisLead: America's Secret Epidemic, in February as part of its Let's Take the Lead on Lead event at the Hollywood Theatre. The event drew a group of highly engaged and appreciative people who take hazardous materials and public safety seriously.

The film covers a lot of ground exposing the preventable condition of lead poisoning, how it occurs, and how it manifests itself. Many experts are consulted (Noam Chomsky even), as Rubin uses the lens of her own family's experience to focus on lead's dangers. It is as alarming as it is inspiring.

Before you pass by and breathe dust from another Portland demolition, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. Especially if you have children with you.

Reserved seating for City Council went empty for the Let's
Take the Lead on Lead event at the Hollywood Theatre.
With the final edit done (adding footage from Flint; Rubin made three visits there in one month alone), Rubin has wrapped the movie, and now gives Portlanders one last chance to see it!

Check it out, for free, at at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 11, at Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St.

Here are a few pics from the Hollywood screening, which was followed by a Q & A with Rubin and husband Len as well as John Sandie, who has led UNR's effort for control and containment of hazardous materials during demolition.

Filmmaker Tamara Rubin talked about her experience
with lead poisoning in her family, and what steps parents
can take to avoid it.

UNR's Al Ellis and Jim Brown (right) connect with concerned Portlanders
at the Hollywood Theatre.

Tamara Rubin, Len Rubin, and John
Sandie of UNR (right) take audience questions after
a screening of MisLead: America's Secret Epidemic.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Our little Flint: Demolitions spread the lead out

According to a federal study, dust from a demolition travels up to 400 feet, about
eight Portland yards in an R5 zone. A Feb. 29 event at the Hollywood looks
at the effects of ingestion and ways to minimize exposure.

With deconstruction set to occur for homes built in 1916 or earlier, thanks to City Council's vote last week, now United Neighborhoods for Reform moves to tackle the uncontrolled release of hazardous materials from the other 67 percent of the homes that will go down this year—about 200 if the trend holds steady.

Never mind that these hundreds of homes will end up in our landfill—even while so many Portlanders carefully tuck their every can and bottle into the right container for recycling—the dust the homes will exude through mechanical demolition probably contains lead (the walls of every pre-1978 home were sure to be coated with it) and asbestos, a popular building-material ingredient for decades.

Fallout from demolitions, along with the effects of lead poisoning, and information on how we can protect ourselves, are the focus of Let's Take the Lead on Lead, a free event that runs 6:30 to 9 p.m. Monday, Feb. 29, at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd. Come one, come all.

The event includes a screening of Portlander Tamara Rubin's movie MisLead: America's Secret Epidemic (watch the trailer here), followed by Demolishing Portland: A Gallery of Lost History, the UNR movie that's even more compelling on the big screen.

Filmmaker Rubin and John Sandie, who leads the hazmat-control effort for United Neighborhoods for Reform, will lead a Q&A afterward.

Sign up to learn about upcoming demos in your neighborhood, and help inform people about how to minimize their exposure to hazardous materials released during demolition.

This event is funded by Central Northeast Neighbors and presented by Beaumont-Wilshire NA, Lead Safe America Foundation, and United Neighborhoods for Reform

Friday, February 12, 2016

The smash-and-dump crowd brings us down

And by us, I mean all Portlanders, and more. For the first time in nearly a decade, the Metro region—including Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties—registered a decline in its "recovery rate"—the amount of waste collected that doesn't end up in the landfill. (Here's the report.)

Pointing out that "the recent decline [in recovered materials] bucks a longstanding upward trend," the report notes that increases in the amount of wood and scrap metal going to the landfill—and there will be much more due to the recent closure of a Newberg mill that used to burn Portland's classic homes—were mostly to blame for the tarnish on our "green" reputation.
Truck writes its own caption: Just because they're called
landfills, doesn't mean we have to fill them. 
Tell City Council you agree.

Chances are you recycle; a majority of Portlanders do. We also can recycle homes if they must be demolished. We should.

Sure, it costs a little more, and takes some time, but it's the right thing to do for so many reasons. The Rebuilding Center recently issued these numbers illustrating the impacts of deconstruction over demolition, as applied to a 2,800-square-foot home:

• 24 tons less carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere
• 1,821 kilowatt hours of electricity saved
• 6 more jobs generated for every 1 in demolition
• 16 tons of materials removed from the waste stream (there you go, Metro)
• 1.2 gallons of fresh, clean water saved per square foot of building

This is not to mention the fact that mechanical demolition sends hazardous dust up to 400 feet out from the demolition site. Every pre-1978 home is almost certain to contain lead paint and likely asbestos. Keeping in mind the recent events involving lead in the water in Flint, Michigan, and emissions from glass factories in Portland, the problem of hazardous materials released into the environment should be the responsibility of the person who's responsible for releasing them.

The resolution coming to City Council next week only asks for deconstruction of homes built in 1916 or before and if they are a designated historic resource. We say, OK! (and "Finally!"), but also: For the sake of this city and people's health and safety, dare to go farther and faster—make deconstruction mandatory for homes built up until, say, 1930, when materials were still solid and the '20s building boom had ebbed —why not eventually all of homes slated for demolition if Portland wants to be as environmentally minded as it says it is.

If, just if, we save some homes from disappearing altogether, that would be a bonus for our ever-diminishing pool of affordable, usually modest-size housing. Win-win.

Developers should feel free to build on vacant land—the city says we have twice as much as we need to meet our density goals until 2035. Click here, then on "Staff Report: Residential Densities," and check out Page 2:

The vacant and underutilized land within these residentially designated areas have a combined development capacity that is double the expected growth, after considering restraints. This means that it is possible to be more selective about where development occurs in residential zones.

Tell city leaders that deconstruction needs their vote, that you love breathing clean air, planting organic gardens, and raising healthy kids. The smash-and-dump practice of erasing local history, viable affordable housing, and so much more has got to stop. Better yet, come Wednesday to speak up and/or show your support.

What: Portland City Council weighs deconstruction
When: 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17
Where: City Hall chambers, 1221 S.W. Fourth Ave.
Who: Your elected leaders
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 1:30 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

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?