An invitation from the Portland Bocce League

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 3.20.09 PM

Anyone want to get into bocce this summer? – “The Portland Bocce League is interested in maintaining a relationship with the PDNA, since our principle base of activity is at the north end of the North Park Blocks. We activate the NPB in what we believe is a positive way. We also face the difficulties presented by some park users/campers each week night. 2015 was stressful for our group, too, and left many talking about finding other venues to play bocce.

We would like to get to know other members of the Pearl District community better, and would like to participate in ongoing discussions with the City regarding conditions in the North Park Blocks.”

A Vision for the North Park Blocks

640px-North_Park_Blocks,_Portland,_Oregon_2012Meeting Held with City OfficialsReported by Stanley Penkin

Following the disruptive summer of 2015 in the North Park Blocks (NPB), there has been a good deal of discussion and citizen activism to assure that there is not a repeat occurrence this coming summer, or ever again.

Residents and businesses adjacent to NPB gathered their forces late last summer to engage the city in efforts to promote greater activation of the park and stronger police enforcement of criminal behavior. The Pearl District Neighborhood Association Livability and Safety Committee (LSC) joined the effort and developed an activation work plan to bring more events and activity to the park.

Members of the NPB Consortium and LSC recently met with the  Parks and Recreation Bureau’s top leadership and representatives from the Mayor’s and Commissioner Fritz’ offices to discuss ways to better program the North Park Blocks. There are challenges to holding some events due to fragile grass and tree roots being damaged, but many ideas were discussed including a greater long term vision for the park.

While the major focus of this meeting was on short term solutions, the NPB/LSC group asked the Parks Bureau to take a longer term, holistic view of the park that would coordinate with the upcoming upgrade of the playground, the City’s Green Loop Plan, the anticipated Flanders street bike bridge and the post office site.

The NPB/LSC vision for the North Park Blocks in 2016 and beyond should embody stimulation, movement, beauty and contemplation. The central location, a major connector between China Town, the Pearl and Downtown creating a cultural infusion where residents, students, tourists and all Portlanders come to enjoy communal interaction, commerce and reflection, bustling and brewing with creativity and joy.

Both city staff and NPB/LSC agreed to holding ongoing meetings to continue the conversation with the next meeting anticipated in early April.

Image credit: Wikipedia – North Park Blocks, Portland, Oregon (2012) by Another Believer

Terminal Chaos Forces Bolt Bus To Street Corner

Bolt bus depot

Dear Mayor Hales and City Commissioners,

I know that some other residents of my building (The North Park Lofts at 300 NW 8th Ave.) have written complaining about the Bolt Bus “stop” (read: depot) that has been moved from SW Salmon St. to NW Everett St. at 8th Ave.  I won’t add to the litany of complaints but suffice it to say that the noise pollution, traffic congestion, illegal parking, litter, etc. from this has had a materially negative impact on the livability of our homes.  And most likely the property values as well.

I met with Joe Darden, Senior Operations Manager of Bolt Bus, yesterday to get their side of the story and to share our concerns with him.  I met him at the Greyhound bus terminal on NW 6th Ave. and it was evident immediately why he would want to use a city street as a depot rather than the modern facility they own; a facility with seating, bathrooms, concessions, garbage receptacles, etc. that was completely deserted and in lockdown at 2pm.  Outside were probably 25-30 presumably homeless people who had taken over the sidewalk and mall surrounding the terminal.  I am a 6’1”, 195lb. man and it was very uncomfortable for me to walk the length of the terminal.  I was twice asked if I was “looking” and one man glared and spit at me.  I cannot imagine a woman, an elderly person, a family, or anyone really who would feel safe going near the terminal.

Joe is a very reasonable man who was sympathetic to our concerns.  He agreed to implement a no-idling policy which, although less than 24 hours in effect, has already made a big difference in the noise.  I didn’t even bother asking him the question why Bolt would use a city street for a depot, with all the attendant issues that creates, because it was painfully obvious that the terminal has been rendered virtually unusable.  His frustration with the situation was palpable, and as someone who endured the similar and horrible situation on the North Park Blocks last summer, I shared his frustration.

When will this City Council do something concrete and meaningful about this?  This is not a Bolt Bus problem, it’s a city-wide livability problem.  The “temporary” moratorium on enforcing the no-camping ordinance is only going to make matters worse. Perhaps we could take a “temporary” time-out from creating bike lanes, couplets, and extending the Streetcar and Max lines to seriously address this.  If the city’s scarce financial resources could be redirected to create one or two permanent camps/shelters with concentrated services and drop-off/triage centers for the police, then maybe the city could find the spine to enforce our laws and make the city inhabitable for tax-paying residents.  The PBA and downtown business owners would no doubt enthusiastically support this and possibly contribute financially.  Even groups like Mercy Corps and Medical Teams International might be willing to offer help in addressing what amounts to a humanitarian crisis in their own backyard.

I know that homelessness is not a crime, and my heart goes out to those who are in that condition through no fault of their own, but what has happened to the once-fair city I grew up in and have lived in for nearly 60 years is a crime.  Doing nothing is not compassion and only enables, nay exacerbates, a tragic problem for all of us.  Thank you for listening and I look forward to your response.

Eric Stromquist
North Park Lofts

PDX Tries Homeless Camps. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

 Prank Sign ~ Jamison Square

We first saw this prank sign in Jameson Park last week. Turns out it wasn’t far off message from Mayor Hales’ top-down experiment in homeless camps.

“There are just certain times when the city, faced with an emergency, … has to just buckle down, put their heads down, create something and just try it.”  ~ Josh Alpert, Chief of Staff to Mayor Hales. KGW

No, Mr. Alpert is not talking about a unexpected natural disaster. Portland homelessness is a chronic problem. And the city’s inability to insure safe and livable streets has been in the news at least since our blog embarrassed City Hall last summer with park porn photos.

We attended yesterday’s City Council public work session to hear about Portland’s new four-point plan to deal with homelessness in Portland (photo below – that’s right, Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman was not in attendance).

The session featured testimony from Portland Police, a few city officials and homeless advocates. No opportunity for votes, public comment or input from neighborhood groups or businesses that will be impacted. As Mr. Alpert said, “… just buckle down, create something and then go try it.”

city council work session Feb 8 2016

The four point plan looks something like this – What could possibly go wrong?

1. Tents
Overnight sleeping on city sidewalks will be allowed, provided that homeless Portlanders use only a sleeping bag and tarp, do not block the sidewalk, and do not exceed six sleepers in one location. Tents are not allowed on sidewalks.

But tents will be allowed from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. in certain locations, such as city-owned property that is not a sidewalk. The city plans to release examples of property where overnight-only camping would be allowed.

The guidelines don’t apply to parks, although the Portland Parks Bureau generally hasn’t gone out of its way to fight off overnight tent camping.

“No one should have a tent up in this city all day,” Alpert said.

2. Organized camping system
Alpert hopes to establish several — perhaps 10 — city-sanctioned campsites that must be linked to a nonprofit service provider.
Campers wouldn’t necessarily sleep in tents. Instead, the city may order a “couple hundred” disaster-relief pods that homeless Portlanders could sleep in, Alpert said. Later, those pods could be reused by the city in the event of a wide-scale disaster.

The locations of such campsites would be established with the help of neighborhood associations, Alpert.”It’ll be temporary,” Alpert said of the campsites.

3. Organized car/RV system
Similar to the camping system, the city would designate property where homeless Portlanders could legally camp in cars or RVs. Church parking lots are an obvious choice, Alpert said. Any site would require city approval and would need to be affiliated with a nonprofit service provider.

4. More temporary shelter space
Alpert said the city is looking at three or four locations in the hopes of securing more temporary shelter space. He wasn’t ready to speculate how many beds could be added to the system or when they’d be ready.

~ From Oregonian This is Charlie Hales’ plan for allowing homeless camping in Portland (Feb 8, 2016)

Mayor Hales Emergency Declaration Bait & Switch

Tent-and-tarp city on the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge. (Joseph Rose:The Oregonian)
Tent-and-tarp city on the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge. (Joseph Rose:The Oregonian)

The emergency declaration was a bait and switch, and Mayor Hales has exceeded his authority. Mayor Hales sold the State of Emergency to waive zoning codes and convert city-owned buildings into shelters through an expedited. Source

The Impact Statement noted the need, which included “[homeless camps] pose potential health and safety threats for both the campers and the surrounding communities.”  Ordinance and impact statement here

Instead of removing threatening homeless camps and moving people indoors, Mayor Hales has expanded and multiplied the outdoor camps.

The emergency declaration did not waive laws that regulate public sidewalks or public parks. It waived zoning laws that apply to built structures.

Commercial and residential zones are not appropriate places for homeless camps. Renters and homeowners become victimized and scared. Businesses fail.

One of Mayor Hales’s other goals is to reduce rents. We suppose Mayor Hales’s tolerance of crime and misconduct will accomplish that goal by making downtown housing undesirable.

“Gentrification” is a rallying cry against upgrading a neighborhood. We suppose putrefaction is one way to counter that.