I will release my proposed budget for 2015-16 during the first week in May. The annual budget helps outline the priorities moving forward in timelines lasting months, years and even decades. We will talk about long-range funding solutions for transportation and housing, and options to better serve neighborhoods, at-risk youths and our minority communities.
But before we do, this seemed like a good time to check in on the work we have been doing during the first third of this year. The overarching structure of priorities — which I have laid out in past budgets and again this year — are complete neighborhoods; equity and opportunity; public safety and emergency preparedness.
First Successes of the Year:
Urban Renewal Areas: The City Council approved the first-ever comprehensive reform of the Urban Renewal Areas, freeing up millions of dollars onto the tax rolls and immediately helping our budget, the county’s budget and the Common School Fund, all without asking for any new tax dollars. The newly revamped Urban Renewal Areas refocus our efforts on parts of the city that need comprehensive re-development and affordable housing, while celebrating world-renowned urban-renewal successes such as the Pearl District. Listen to Mayor Hales discuss URA amendments.
Energy Benchmarking: The city has adopted rules for energy benchmarking. The owners of large commercial structures now will monitor and report their energy usage, much as we do with the miles-per-gallon reports on automobiles. This has been successful in several other cities and helps reduce a city’s carbon footprint, while saving money for building owners.
Minority- and Women-Owned Contractors: I proposed the creation of a commission to study the city’s use of minority-owned and women-owned contractors, to look for real progress in this important area. I am pleased to tell you the commission is up and running.
$15 per hour: The city adopted a minimum wage of $15 per hour for all full-time permanent employees and contractors. That’s great, but it’s only a start. Over time, we hope to do the same for other employees, and we encourage the private sector to follow suit. Every city on the West Coast is facing an affordability crisis. Portland is not San Francisco or Seattle – yet – but addressing housing and increasing wages are two methods of addressing the affordability gap.
Mountain Bikes: I have budgeted $350,000 in the remaining months of the 2014-15 fiscal year to begin an Off-Road Cycling Master Plan. We have not had such a plan before, and it’s long overdue. Portland is rightly proud of its reputation as a bicycle-friendly city, but the grand majority of our work has been on safe streets. I want to fast-track – excuse the expression – this project because no mountain bikers should have to hop in a car and drive an hour out of town to recreate.
Under Armour: I traveled this winter to Baltimore, to discuss the company’s expansion in Portland. The company now has announced it will move into the former Metro Family YMCA on Barbur Boulevard, adding to our city’s reputation as the nation’s epicenter for footwear and athletic apparel industry.
Infill: Also budgeted for the remainder of 2014-15: A single-dwelling development code project. By the end of this calendar year, I want a plan for how to protect existing neighborhoods threatened by demolition and haphazard infill.
Background Checks for Guns: I went to Salem in 2013 and again this year to champion a law that closes loopholes in background checks for gun sales. Such a law will help reduce the incidents of illegal use of guns. The bill has passed the Senate and is heading to the House floor this week. Gov. Brown has said she will sign it into law. I applaud our lawmakers for this simple, common-sense fix, which is supported by the law enforcement community.
Lents: Real changes to Lents. The neighborhood has endured decades of inactivity as wave after wave of boom times passed it by. But now we have a real plan. Property sales are in the offing and a minor league baseball team is moving into the neighborhood. Like Old Town/China Town, Lents is poised to take advantage of the booming economy.
TNCs: Finally, the city has a deal with Transportation Network Companies, such as Uber and Lyft, as well as the city’s taxi companies, which will allow both models to function side-by-side. We have entered a 120-day pilot phase to see how it’s working. Portland appears to be the first city in North America who to successfully persuade Uber to operate within local regulations. That includes establishing rules on public safety, background checks for drivers, vehicle inspections, insurance, and more. The rest of the nation is watching us. If successful, we believe the Portland model could become the model for cities everywhere.
The Next Three Quarters
It’s an ambitious list. It includes:
Demo Tax: I will propose a demolition plan that would make it easy to demolish a rundown building, but expensive to demolish a sound, older home to make way for a $1 million mansion. That kind of infill does nothing to address the city’s density goals, but drives gentrification. Portland is growing and will continue to grow. That’s a fact. We will increase the city’s density, but we’ll do it in a smart manner: Where it’s called for, and not by stuffing huge houses into long-established neighborhoods.
Broadway Corridor: The city’s Planning and Development Commission is considering the purchase of a U.S. Postal Service site on Northwest Hoyt Street as part of the Broadway Corridor Planning Process. The USPS property makes up 14 acres of a 24-acre sector of land that would include Union Station and the Greyhound station. These talks kick off the framework to begin planning for the site. Stay tuned for more.
Women’s Shelter: Also in the 2014-15 budget adjustment: $126,000 to help extend women’s shelter capacities, which is a key component for the Home for Everyone model as adopted by the City and Multnomah county. I also budgeted $250,000 to assist homeless veterans. Our goal, as shared by the county, is to find homes for every homeless veteran by the end of the year.
Body Cameras: We are waiting on the Legislature to provide guidance on body cameras for police officers. We provided a substantial amount of initial funding for this program in 2014. We are optimistic that, before the gavel falls on the 2015 Legislature, we will have the guidance on public safety and rights of privacy that we need to fully invest in body cameras.
Ban the Box: The City Council will consider my revised proposal to “ban the box” citywide. The City already has adopted this policy: we no longer ask job applicants if they have been felons until such time as a conditional job offer has been made. This increases our pool of employee candidates and addresses the systematic overrepresentation of people of color, and low-income Oregonians, in our prison system. We want the entire city to adopt this code, as other cities around the nation have. We want former felons working, making an honest living, and not returning to prison. Ban the Box is a simple measure to reduce prison recidivism rates.
Psychiatric Emergency Center: And finally, our community has made significant headway on the creation of a psychiatric emergency services center for people who are suffering from a mental health crisis. Mental illness drives up the statistics on homelessness. For too long, the first responders for people in mental health crisis have been police officers, who drive them to traditional ERs. We badly need a better solution; a humane solution. And this year, we are closer than ever, working with Multnomah County, the Legislature and health-care providers including Legacy Health, Adventist Health, Kaiser Permanente and Oregon Health & Science University.
That’s a not-very-brief look back at the first quarter of this year, and a glance forward at the remainder of this year.
And now, on to the 2015-16 budget.