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Transcript of Mayor Charlie Hales' address:
I love music. One of my earliest memories as a child was the sound of my mother’s piano playing drifting up to my bedroom. I was a geeky high school band kid. Now I’m no longer a kid, but I still love music, and there’s probably still some of the geeky part left. My favorite piece of music in all the world is Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.” The heart of that piece is an old Shaker hymn that goes like this (singing):
Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free
Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
It will be the valley of love and delight
You probably know now why I didn’t major in music. But you probably know how I feel. That is: I want to start this speech by thanking Nancy, and Caroline, and Gavin, and all of our family and all of you, and the citizens of Portland, and the great city employees of the City of Portland, for giving me the gift of being the mayor of such a much-loved place, and a place that is so delightful to us all. Thank you for this opportunity to serve you.
Thank you, City Club for this civic tradition, where we review and reflect and, yes, raise our sights for the better days we want ahead. Thank you, Karen Kervin and Greg MacPherson, for your leadership of this club, and thank you Sam Adams, as you leave a stronger, more vital organization and go to the World Resources Institute, and take great ideas to scale in other cities. Thank you, Sam.
As Karen said, I see three really important priorities for our future: neighborhoods, economic opportunity, and public safety.
First, a little bit about where we’ve been and how we got here.
When I was sworn in in 2013, we faced a slow local economic recovery and a huge city budget deficit. We had a police reform agreement that was aspirational, but not yet operational.
My first job as your mayor was to work with the Council and get our fiscal house in order. We cut budgets in general fund bureaus by 5 percent and clamped down on spending. We paid down debt with the first new money that came into our hands. We maintained the city’s Aaa bond rating, and we took $800 million that had been locked up in the Portland Development Commission urban renewal areas and put that value back on the tax rolls to benefit schools and public services at the city and the county.
You know, I went to a really boring meeting on Tuesday. It was the meeting of — and there are some members here — our police and fire retirement fund board. And we heard a long and fascinating report from our actuaries. Are you jealous yet? But they told us some things between those lines of numbers that are pretty important: This retirement fund is actuarially stable and that tax burden on our citizens is going down. And administrative costs are small and declining as a share of the whole enterprise. In Chicago, the pension debt, the unfunded cost of the system, is $18,000 for every man, woman and child in Chicago. For Portland, that number is zero.
There are a lot of mayors who would like to go to that boring meeting, and I’m glad I’m the one who gets to do that.
So we did spend a lot of time in the last two years righting the ship, and now it’s time to pilot the ship to where we as a community want to go.
There were some major challenges in these past two years, and as I list them, I am also listing some solid successes by your team at City Hall.
One of them was an attempted hostile takeover of our water and sewer systems — a well-funded campaign that tapped into legitimate concerns in our community about the stewardship of our water and sewer dollars. But voters soundly and wisely rejected this, and we owe a debt of thanks to Commissioner Nick Fish. Nick: Thanks very much for your leadership.
We’ve reinvested in parks. I’m so happy and proud of that 1994 measure. My kids and I — and Gavin’s here today — went door-to-door for that measure, and it was a great moment for Portland. And so was last fall, when our 2014 bond measure passed by a 72 percent margin, funding projects from Thomas Cully Park to Pioneer Courthouse Square to Powell Butte. Thank you, Amanda Fritz, for your passionate leadership.
Third, Portlanders reinvested in our Children’s Levy, again with a huge margin, with 74 percent approval. The levy invested $11 million in academic success, preventing child abuse and neglect, and mitigating childhood hunger. Thank you, Dan Saltzman, for your leadership of our Children’s Levy.
Which brings me to everyone’s all-time favorite subject: the Street Fund. Sam, it would be a good time now to lock the doors, please. Yeah, yeah, we’re all tired of talking about the street fund. I’m tired of asking people to face this problem for the last 14 years. Let me lay out what we’ve done recently, and I promise I’ll do it briefly. Now some of you might think the first thing we did was ask for more money. No. The first thing we did was to dig down deep with the dollars we already have and pave more streets. We went from paving 30 miles a year to paving 100 miles per year with the money we already had. Good news! But we have 5,000 lane miles to take care of, and a lot of them are in poor and declining condition. We need to spend, by our transportation bureau’s estimate, about $91 million more a year to take care of the streets we have, and to put them into proper repair. Now we’ve tried several options, and there was opposition. Understood; taxes are not popular. Once upon a time, the federal government was a reliable partner in our work on transportation. Earl Blumenauer has been trying to raise the gas tax for years, and to get Congress to get real about transportation funding. Congress should listen to this man, and we hope this is the session when they finally do that, and take this historic opportunity, of amazing declines in gas prices, to do the right thing and to listen to Earl Blumenauer. Earl: Thank you for your leadership.
Now, we’ve put our own local funding efforts on hold this month, responding to a request from our governor and our Speaker of the House to do that. And we think that the state legislature is a key partner in this work. Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum and a number of our state legislative delegation is here. Would you please stand and accept our thanks for being great legislators for Portland?
We met with our Portland legislative delegation this week, and they’re going to work hard to help solve this problem, but no matter what, action in Congress and action in Salem won’t defuse this problem. We hope it will diminish the size of the problem, but it won’t erase it. So we’re not done talking about the street fund until we’ve done something.
Remember how we don’t have an unfunded pension liability? We do have an unfunded street liability. It’s $1.5 billion. It amounts to $2,500 for every man, woman and child in Portland. And it’s getting bigger. It’s growing by $12.5 million a month. Tick, tick, tick: $12.5 million more than last month. Now, we can ignore that, we can jeer at those people who are willing to face it or the proposals they come up with, but it’s still going up — tick, tick, tick. By $20.83 per person, per month. For the past two years, the person who stood with me facing this issue has been Commissioner Steve Novick. Steve: Thank you for your courage.
There is an easy way out for all of us on this, which is do nothing. I’m not that guy, this is not that Council, and we’re not that city. Together, we must get this done. And I believe we will.
Another issue we’ve focused on in the last couple years is police reform. Now I started by telling you about the great progress we’ve made to right the ship financially. I now get to tell you that we’re making great progress in police reform. There’s a principle there that I think we all believe in, that the police must be a force for community health and for justice. And that no law abiding people should ever believe they have a reason to fear the police, yet too often this is not true for many people in our community — for people of color, or for people suffering from mental illness. Changing this reality in Portland is a sustaining passion of my administration.
Here’s an important distinction: We want to be safe, and we want to feel safe when we interact with our police. Our police bureau is changing, and changing of that interaction will result.
Let me briefly explain why Portland is different from other cities on this issue. We have a clear path to improvement, we have a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, and we have changed who we hire as police officers, how we promote them, how we train them, when they get to use force, and how we apply discipline when their actions are inappropriate. We focus on police accountability and on that relationship-building with our community. That starts with recruitment: 40 percent of our new hires in the past five years have been women and people of color. We’ve expanded our Behavioral Health Unit, which assists people in mental health crisis. This progress is due to City Council leadership, to direction that I gave when I took over the bureau, and our excellent command staff. But none of it would’ve happened in a police bureau that was completely unwilling to change.
Every day I get on this phone a report called the daily situation report. And it tells what happened usually overnight in our police bureau. And I tell you, day after day I see reports of de-escalation crises, of solving problems, of being humane — incidents of police officers out there using the best tool they have, which is compassion. Let me give you two examples:
Officer Parik Singh. One day last winter, Officer Singh saw a homeless man barefoot, in the cold. He gave the man his boots. Sports columnist John Canzano asked, why’d you give him your boots? Officer Singh said, “We’re the same size, and he was cold.”
Officer Susan Billard last July was called to the Safeway on 122nd. A shoplifter had been caught with $6 of soup and rolls by the security guard for that store. His pregnant girlfriend hadn’t eaten all day; that’s why he did this. She was outside in the car in the parking lot crying. Rather than arrest that man, Officer Billard issued him a citation, and told the girlfriend, go fill up a cart of groceries and meet me at the front of the store, and then she paid for the groceries.
Now, you won’t necessarily read these stories in the headlines and they’re not required by the Department of Justice settlement, but it is what our officers do day after day.
So that’s how we’ve addressed some of the challenges of the first two years in office, which leads to the state of our city today: Portland is healthy and getting stronger.
Why do I say that? It’s just some words in a city club speech? No. You can look it up. This week we have introduced a dashboard on the city’s website that tracks metrics on my priorities and the city’s priorities, like building livable neighborhoods, and creating economic opportunity, and improving public trust in law enforcement and in government in general. I don’t quote Ronald Reagan very often, but “trust but verify.” Go check it out, portlandoregon.gov/dashboard.
Over the next two years we will focus on neighborhoods and economic opportunity and public safety. To address these, Portlanders need to know that we here in Portland rewrote the urban equation. What do I mean by that?
Forty years ago there was a conventional wisdom about cities in decline. Prosperity was leaking out to the suburbs; urban schools were deteriorating; parents with choices left the public schools, and left the poor kids behind. There was an understanding that the races would never get along; urban life was the lesser choice; suburban flight was the norm. This was true nationally, and this was true here. There were a lot of parking lots in what we now call downtown Portland. Get this: as recently as 1990 there were 2,000 vacant and abandoned houses — vacant and abandoned houses — in North and North and Northeast Portland. There was talk about new freeways, even though in 1979 there were 115 days in which Portland exceeded the federal air quality standard for smog. That was the urban equation. Nothing unusual here.
But what did Portland do? We redeveloped the parking lots. We said no to more highways in the city. We invested in light rail and street cars. Individual families and social entrepreneurs like Community Development Corporations invested in great old houses and great old neighborhoods. We revitalized main streets in our neighborhoods from Hollywood to Hillsdale, and from Multnomah to Montevilla, and from Woodlawn to Woodstock.
How did we become this livable city? We put our values into our actions and then created a lot of great partnerships. That’s the Portland way.
So naturally my first priority for the next two years is neighborhoods. We’re working now on our comprehensive plan, the blueprint for the development of our city over the next couple of decades. Here’s something I’m passionate about: Keeping great neighborhoods great, and extending the benefits of livable urbanism to more of our city neighborhoods. And here’s what we must do to get there from here:
Preserve neighborhood character. Work to preserve affordability, so people won’t be forced out of their historic neighborhood. Tighten up the rules on demolition: Use this tool rarely, and use it right. Have strong infill standards and design guidelines.
We all know the nightmare scenario: a homeowner leaves town for the weekend, comes back, and the charming old house next door is a pile of rubble. And a few weeks later, there’s a McMansion there. I’ll recommend new rules on neighborhood infill that will widen the setbacks between houses, require that new houses closely match the older ones around them, in terms of size and volume, and make demolition a less attractive option.
Neighborhood by neighborhood, we should take care of what we have and invest in the plans and hopes for Portland neighborhoods that they’ve established for themselves. Let me give you three examples of just that.
First, Lents. After years of talk and millions of dollars of planning, we now have real projects in final negotiations with the Portland Development Commission and Lents. I want to take you on a walk through Lents, two years from now. We’ll start at the Asian Health & Services Center on Foster and 91st, an intergenerational mixed-use project with a health clinic, a community center, and a Chinese-immersion preschool — all just down the street from the Jade District. At 92nd we’ll see a town center, which includes commercial, mixed-use and residential projects for seniors and families. At Reedway and 91st, there’s going to be an apartment building there, called Woodie Guthrie’s Place, because he used to live in that part of Portland. Across the street there’s a retail and office project called Lents Exchange.
The Lents Action Plan was created by the neighborhood. In two years, all three words will be true. It’s about Lents, it’s a plan, and finally, we’ll have action.
Take another walk with me through Old Town/Chinatown. Howard Weiner, an amazing volunteer, the neighborhood president there, is finally retiring, he’s almost irreplaceable, but there are a lot of other people working hard. And there are great things happening there. The old Post Office is becoming the Pacific Northwest College of Art. A historic building at Glisan and Park is going to be the Harlow Hotel. Ankrom Moisan Architects is going to build its headquarters on a parking lot — yes! — next to the College of Oriental Medicine, and it’s also going to have offices with 60 or 70 residential units in them.
This is critical mass, long awaited critical mass, for a neighborhood that’s waited a long time. Now, from the Pacific Northwest College of Art to Portland State University, downtown Portland is going to shine as an example of how the arts, education, and the new economy are a great recipe for a great city. I look forward to taking those walks with you.
Let’s take one more. Let’s take a walk around an aspirational neighborhood, which the residents are now calling the Soul District. All along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in the not-too-distant future, we’ll see the results of a newly energized housing strategy, a new grocery store, smaller businesses owned by residents. This is all the work of community leaders who have a vision for development on MLK. A vision for supporting African-American-owned businesses, and promoting a cultural home on that great street.
Now what do these great neighborhoods — Lents, Old Town/Chinatown, the Soul District — all have in common? In each case the neighborhood had the plan, City Hall is there to assist — just like the East Portland Action Plan that’s winning applause around the country for its grassroots, up from the bottom approach to designing its own future.
That’s the Portland way: Neighborhood plans, city supports, and partnerships.
In addition to neighborhoods, in the next two years you’ll see a sharp focus on economic opportunity for all Portlanders.
Remember, 40 years ago, there was that conventional wisdom about urban life, a negative answer to the urban equation. Portland said, No! We chose a better way. The Portland way.
So now let me talk about the human equation, because there’s a new conventional wisdom, and it’s this: We’re in a deeply stratified society. The rich get richer, the poor stay poor. In the late 1960s, more than half of American households were middle class, living in households with an income of $35,000 to $100,000. In the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, the middle class shrank. Why? Because people were climbing up the economic ladder. But now, since 2000, the middle class has continued to shrink. Not because people are climbing up, but because they’re falling down into poverty.
Here’s a statistic in our state, from the Oregon Center for Public Policy: there are 642,000 people in Oregon living in poverty, and in many cases in hunger as well. If poverty was a city, it would be bigger than Portland.
Let’s be honest about this as well. It’s not an equal opportunity poverty. Issues of poverty are also issues of racial justice.
I don’t have to give you statistics. You know how underserved communities of color are in terms of employment and household income and education and health care and the criminal justice system. It’s part of that conventional view that says when it comes to inequality, it was here before, it’s here now, it’ll always be here, there’s nothing we can do about it locally, sorry.
But just like the urban equation, I believe there’s a better way — the Portland way.
With the urban equation we are proving that it’s actually possible that a city can be a national exception, ultimately an international exception, to the megatrends that were afflicting cities 30, 40 years ago. I believe Portland can continue to realize its promise as a livable city. As I said though, we have to keep going, because we have to ensure that all of our neighborhoods are livable. But I believe we can do that work, and begin shaping a different answer to the conventional wisdom about the human equation, making Portland a city of opportunity.
City Hall won’t accomplish this alone, either. We’re one partner among many. One partnership I’m really proud of is the Black Male Achievement initiative. Members of the steering committee of this venture held a press conference on Monday to outline their goals and plans. They’re working for tangible, quantifiable progress in areas like education, employment and incarceration. Joyce Harris, an amazing community resource, looked at that line of men in front of her and said, I’ve never been more proud of the men in our community. I haven’t either. There’s some members of that group here today. Would you please stand?
What sort of issues are these men taking on? Here’s an example: One of the persistent factors holding people back is disproportionate discipline in our schools. Students who are expelled have a much tougher time staying with their age group. They’re less likely to graduate on time or go to college, and the numbers just simply call us to action. In 2013, 4 percent of white students in Portland Public Schools were suspended or expelled; 17 percent of black students were. All our school districts see consistent numbers about disproportionate discipline. African-American boys and Native American boys are most affected, followed by Latino boys, and the disparities persist in high school, and middle school, and elementary school, and all the way down to preschool.
Disproportionate discipline is where racial injustice begins. Equality in education and in discipline is where opportunity begins.
I’m not picking on Portland Public Schools here, by the way. They’ve had the guts to look at this challenge in the eye and set goals this year to reduce expulsions by 50 percent, which requires getting a 60 percent decrease for African-American boys. My thanks and commendation to Carole Smith, Lolenzo Poe, and the Black Male Achievement initiative for making this a focus for their advocacy. Each of you is a force for positive change. Thank you.
So what else can a city, our city, do about economic opportunity? Another passion of mine: Living wages for city workers. It’s a passion for a lot of us, including Dan Saltzman: This year we’ll be proposing my budget that all full-time permanent employees and contractors of the city of Portland make $15 per hour. It’s the right thing to do.
I met Kadra Ahmed while I was running for mayor. Kadra fled Somalia to a refugee camp in Kenya before she resettled in the United States. She’s a custodian who works in the Portland Building, and has for the past seven years. She makes $13.50 an hour and she has seven children. Her husband drives a taxi, but he was injured in a car accident and isn’t working right now. How would Kadra use a little more income? She’d pay the fees so that her kids could play sports in their schools, because right now they have to choose which of their children plays sports and which don’t.
John Russell, a prominent local businessman, has told me he’ll match the city’s $15 per hour in his buildings, and I call on other civic-minded business leaders to match John Russell’s example.
When it comes to economic opportunity, what else can a city do? Our city?
How about this: For our minority-owned, women-owned businesses, let’s improve our system for the city of Portland, so that our contracts and good intentions lead to more actual opportunities. In the next couple of weeks we’ll be bringing an ordinance to Council to establish a new commission, the Commission on Contracting and Purchasing. This will be a watchdog to ensure companies aren’t gaming the system, and will recommend more ways to increase minority participation on contracts. Nobody in this city is more committed to creating a pathway to minority prosperity than James Posey. And I want to thank him and others, like Tony Jones, for working on these issues. Thank you, James.
What are some other things we can do here, in our city, about economic opportunity?
We can create programs to help ex-offenders, except I don’t like to use that term. I like to call them, “returning citizens.” Here’s how it ought to work: If you break the law, you get convicted, you serve your time, and that’s it. You should then return to your community. But right now there are barriers that stop returning citizens from being successful.
Last year, we as a city took action: We removed a major barrier from people seeking city employment, because we banned the box. We took off of our applications a requirement that applicants disclose felony convictions before they ever get interviewed or even get a conditional job offer. Now, working with the Urban League, AFL-CIO, the ACLU, and others, we’re going to work to spread this great idea citywide. It’s the right thing to do.
We should go further than just banning the box. This year I’ll propose incentives for businesses that hire returning citizens, just like we do for veterans. Philadelphia does this, and they’ve had over 400 Philadelphians hired in their program. The recidivism rate for those returning citizens is an amazing 7 percent. Now here’s how it’ll work: The city will offer a tax credit of up to $5,000 for each ex-offender hired by a Portland business that year, for up to two years. We’ll run it as a pilot program for two years and see how it works. We’ll take an initial group of 100 returning citizens and try this out.
Let me read you a letter I received a couple days ago:
“I’ve been trying to help my mother get in a position to find a job. My mom is an ex-offender who has a few felonies on her record that are over 20 years old, but that keep coming back on her when she tries to get a job. I have just last week looked into paying a lawyer to have them expunged so she can get a job.”
The person who wrote that is Mitchell Jackson, a Portlander whose amazing first novel The Residue Years is a must-read for everyone who cares about Portland and about racial equity. Let’s do this for Mitchell’s mom, and for every Portland resident who’s stuck in the cycle of being an ex-offender. Let’s clear the way for returning citizens to participate as productive members of our community.
Will this be expensive? Let me turn that question around: How will that compare with the billions of dollars that we as a country spend on prisons? No contest. It’s a very good investment.
To provide economic opportunity for everyone, our economy has to be flexible, and we’re adapting to the new sharing economy. We found a path forward for the legal use of short-term rentals like Airbnb. Check out the front page of the Wall Street Journal today: You’ll see that we’re noticed for working with private for hire ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. Now, understand, we’ll do this only when we can ensure that these companies can embrace our values that include public safety and equal access. Remember that Somali family that I mentioned? Kadra’s husband, the taxi driver? We also need to make sure they have the ability to make a living wage behind the wheel, because that’s our priority too. I think that also is the Portland way.
Finally, one more topic on the issue of economic opportunity: Housing. In Portland, there are too many people that are lower income and are struggling to find a place to live, and there are too many people who are homeless. On any given night there are 1,800 people living unsheltered on our streets. How’d they get there? There are 1,800 different stories. And there are a lot of people in this room who work with that community and know what I mean, and know that one solution doesn’t fit all. But we have to keep trying to find ideas that work and take them to scale and do more of them. Three examples:
This week, City Council approved a $20 million investment in housing in North and Northeast Portland, on top of $16 million that had already been dedicated: $8 million for permanently affordable rental homes; $5 million to build affordable homes and help households purchase homes; $4 million for repairs to help up to 240 households stay in their homes; and $3 million to purchase land for future housing.
Another example: Women into Housing Now. Last year, 282 people were helped by this program — women and their families, helped in finding homes. Fifty-five percent of those women were from communities of color.
The third one: Home Start, which provides rent assistance, housing placement and support services for families and vulnerable adults who are experiencing homelessness. Last year, 989 people got help with transitional or permanent housing through this program; 58 percent from communities of color.
Those are just three examples of what we’re doing. And the city, once again, cannot act alone. The Portland way is to put our values into practice by building great partnerships.
One of those partnerships is with Rob Justus and Dave Carbonneau, who have a plan to build 1,000 affordable units in four years. They’re not building Cadillac spaces, but building small, quickly, and well. We need these types of creative solutions because we need housing stock now.
Despite all that effort, homelessness is still a persistent problem in our city, as it is throughout the nation. I encourage everyone to read Anna Griffin’s excellent series of articles in The Oregonian on homelessness, because she lays out the challenges well. I also encourage everyone to lay out the City Club’s report on health care reform and homelessness that was released earlier this month.
Since I came to office, every time we had an opportunity to increase funding for the homeless, this City Council has done so. We increased funding in the 2013 budget, the 2013 fall budget adjustment, and the 2014 budget. Yet, the problem persists.
So what else can we do here? Soon?
Pick a component of this big, complex problem and tackle it with an effective partnership. Here’s a good example: Homelessness among veterans.
Last November the Veterans Administration challenged Portland and Multnomah County to house 100 vets by Veterans’ Day.
Instead, we found housing for 139.
I met one of them, a guy named Frederick Maxwell. He served our country, and then lived for five years in his van. Today he has a home for himself and his cat, who he says runs his home — I can identify with that.
More recently the Home for Everyone executive committee considered a plan to find a home for all our homeless vets by the end of 2015. The Home for Everyone executive committee includes me, and Commissioner Saltzman, County Chair Deborah Kafoury and Commissioner Jules Bailey, Karylinn Echols from Gresham, Michael Buonocore, and Michael Parkhurst of Meyer Memorial Trust. This is an example of city-county partnership that we’ll see more of. I know we have some of our county colleagues here with us, including Chair Kafoury. Let’s recognize them.
This is one of my first opportunities to partner with Chair Kafoury and it won’t be our last. This group has made this commitment, unanimously: We’re going to house every last one of our homeless vets here in Portland by this next Veterans Day. It’s the right thing to do.
I’ve talked about neighborhoods and economic opportunity, now let me turn to my third priority: Public safety. Our city, again, is leading the way on police accountability. Here’s an example:
Last year we reintroduced walking beats as a pilot project on Hawthorne and in parts of downtown. From March through October, police contacted about 2,100 people on Hawthorne, resulting in 227 arrests. BUT, also resulting in about 1,300 offers of services. Arrests aren’t the goal; preventing crime is the goal, serving the community is the goal. And credit goes to AC Bob Day and Sgt. Ric DeLand. I got to go out with these officers and their team as they walked the beat on Hawthorne. I spoke to the shopkeepers, I spoke to the Street Roots vendors. I spoke with a young, homeless man named Trevor, who said, “I’ve been to a lot of cities, and Portland’s the only one where I know the names of the officers and they know me.” Trevor gave me this amulet. He said he sensed good energy from the police and from me. I’m going to keep that amulet and try to keep earning that trust.
The Hawthorne merchants praised these beats, the neighbors loved them, even our houseless communities and their advocates praised them. Israel Bayer of Street Roots said, “It should be a national model” for how to interact with the homeless — and he doesn’t dispense that kind of praise often. Dennis Lundberg of Janus Youth said of Sgt. De Land’s team: “It’s like having a whole other team of street outreach people out there, working with us.”
We’ve run two pilot programs, we’ve measured their success. This is what community policing looks like. Expect to see more of it. Sgt. DeLand: Thank you.
Police Chief Larry O’Dea and I both believe in investing ourselves in a relationship with our citizens. In city after city, communities are facing protests now over officer-involved shootings. From Ferguson to New York, our nation has been roiled by this issue, and we’re no exception. I’m committed to listening, to having real dialogues with protesters and concerned citizens — because they have legitimate concerns. I’ve met with the faith community; I’ve sat on stage at Roosevelt High School taking questions from students who are angry at the police; I’ve held two meetings so far with Don’t Shoot Portland, and five more are planned. Thank you, Teressa, for your leadership and your help.
I want to thank Chief O’Dea for making this relationship with the community his top priority. And he has a command staff with the same values. Here’s my advice to everybody: Get to know Larry O’Dea, get to know his command staff. These are the right people, at the right time to lead the Police Bureau. Please stand. Thank you all for your service.
Another major factor in public safety is the illegal use of guns. I believe, and Portlanders believe in universal background checks for all gun sales.
Now you know that I could stand here and cite statistics on gun violence all afternoon. Let me just give you a couple:
- Firearm homicide is the second-leading cause of death after motor vehicle crashes for our young people.
- An average of eight children and youths under the age of 20 are killed by guns in America every day. Every day.
Why do I mention youths killed by guns? Let me tell you, there are some wonderful and there’s some terrible things that I get to do as your mayor. One of the worst was going to Emmanuel Hospital to visit three high school students wounded by gunfire, including one, La’Braye Franklin, who had worked as an intern in my office. And that was hard. La’Braye lay there in his hospital bed and said over and over, “This is so messed up.”
You’re right, La’Braye. We know that. So do our state legislators who are here, because they’re committed, as we are, to making this change. I testified to the 2013 Legislature, and I’ll go back whenever you ask me to be there. Senator Burdick isn’t here, but I think she’s listening in. We know how hard she’s worked and the threats she’s faced. Together, this community and this legislature will do the right thing for La’Braye and everyone at risk of gun violence. This is the session.
Finally, the most intractable issue around public safety: How to help our residents who are suffering with mental illness. The nation’s failing mental health system fails us all. It undermines our schools; it contributes to homelessness; it creates a system of police as first responders to mental health crises.
We see this problem in Portland and in every city. In 2013, Portland Police transported 1,100 people in mental health crisis to emergency rooms. Wrong vehicles, wrong destination. An estimated 40 percent of the inmates in Multnomah County Jail are diagnosed with mental illness. I firmly believe that police should not be the first responders in mental health crises. But if they are, we’re committed to making sure they have the right training for the task. That’s why we’ve increased the capacity of that Behavioral Health Unit within the Police Bureau, adding a Mobile Crisis Unit to each of our three precincts.
You should see, again, these reports I get on my phone, day after day, week after week, our police are responding to people in mental health crisis as just a normal part of their routine.
Let me give you one example from last September. This is the story of Denorris McClendon, a man who is suffering with mental illness.
On Aug. 30 of last year, police received a report of a man acting strangely in public. Officers found him and drove him home. Half an hour later his grandmother called because he’d become agitated, and police met him again. On Aug. 31, his grandmother called again. Mr. McClendon was suffering from paranoid delusions. He was out in the back yard swinging a wooden dowel at the bushes, looking for the FBI. Some days before this he’d broken both his arms, and although they hadn’t healed, he’d removed the casts and stitches himself. Someday soon, Denorris would be in a better place, but that wasn’t that day. Project Respond was called in and Mr. McClendon was taken to the hospital, but he was released in the middle of the night.
When Labor Day dawned, the police received a report of a man waving a gun at cars at the intersection of I-84 and I-205, one of the busiest intersections of our highway systems, on Labor Day. There was a massive police and medical response. This unidentified man, you know where I’m going with this, was Denorris McClendon.
This situation could’ve had a horrifying death toll out there on the highway. But it didn’t; police didn’t fire at him. Police stayed back and worked to isolate him from other drivers. He eventually left the freeway and moved toward a residential neighborhood. Now police believed they had no choice: They shot him and wounded him and arrested him before he could reach neighborhood homes.
Now I tell you this story, not to vilify Mr. McClendon, nor the police. I tell you this story, because at every step our community has failed Denorris McClendon.
What can we do about it? For one thing we can create one or more psychiatric emergency centers here in Portland. As I said before, we do things through partnerships, and this is an essential one, where we work with Multnomah County and the legislature and community care organizations and hospitals. Next year I want to come before you and say we’ve opened our first psychiatric emergency center.
We’ll do this for Denorris McClendon. We’ll do this for his grandmother. We’ll do this for every family afflicted by mental health crises. And for every police officer who’s forced to serve as a first responder in mental health crises. And we’ll do it because it’s the Portland way to create innovative, local solutions to intractable national problems, thus making our citizens’ lives better.
I started off by telling you how we spent two years righting the ship, and how we’ll spend the next two years steering the ship toward the future we all want, with our shared hopes for neighborhoods, economic opportunity and public safety.
I’ve laid out some ambitious goals for my administration and for our city. Whether it’s for the betterment of our Police Bureau and the community it serves; whether it’s for students and people of color; for neighbors and neighborhoods; for women and minority entrepreneurs; for people in poverty and our middle class; for Black Male Achievement; for our community’s workforce; for returning citizens; for the houseless; and for those Portlanders living with mental illness.
I think we will find the Portland way to meet these challenges.
We here rewrote the urban equation. We did it for us, and then other cities are trying very hard to be like Portland. Our challenge now is to rewrite the human equation, for the same reason — for us. To do for the people of Portland as we have done for the place of Portland.
Can we do this? Can we be a city that does all this? A city that strives for liberty for all, livability for all, opportunity for all, justice for all? In this place? Can we in our own Portland way actually make a difference?
I think so. After all, we have a history of being different. We’re Portland.