While we are already digging into the work ahead of us in the new year, it's important to pause and reflect on what we've achieved together. I'm proud of the work my team and I have done in collaboration with colleagues, bureaus, and the community. Here are some of the highlights of 2018 involving my past and present bureaus, the arts, housing and other initiatives my office has participated in:
ELECTIONS: First, big props to you -- the residents and voters of Portland -- for electing Jo Ann Hardesty to Portland City Council and passing the Portland Clean Energy Fund and the Metro Housing Bond! I was a proud and enthusiastic supporter of all three, and I'm so excited to see what we can do moving forward together with new leadership and resources!
Along with the Office of Community & Civic Life, my office spearheaded the City's first Get Out The Vote effort campaign. This non-partisan, content-neutral GOTV effort focused on four out of five of the lowest voter turnout precincts in the last three elections, which were all located in East Portland. Election results show a notable increase in voter turnout in the four precincts we covered. Voting is one of our most fundamental constitutional rights and is essential to a truly representative democracy. Those who vote are better represented and served. We are ahead of the curve with Oregon's Motor Voter Act and Vote-By-Mail, but it's essential that we continue to decrease barriers to participating in our democratic process, from postage-paid ballots to supports for non-native English speaking voters to continued outreach to underrepresented communities.
OFFICE OF COMMUNITY & CIVIC LIFE (CIVIC LIFE): The Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) turned over a new leaf to become the Office of Community and Civic Life with a renewed commitment to engagement and service to our whole city. Formed initially as a bureau that exclusively served the City's Neighborhood Associations, ONI grew to include service to youth, elders, culturally specific organizations, and people with disabilities. We recognize that communities are not just geographically based, especially in a time of displacement and unaffordability, and that the bureau had to re-envision a more inclusive future. The transformation continues as a devoted committee made up of diverse community members considers changes to our code to create an even wider and more welcoming gateway to civic engagement for everyone.
CANNABIS: Portland's Cannabis Program is run through the Office of Community & Civic Life. My priorities for the program include supporting local small business and advancing restorative justice efforts that address the disproportionate impact of prohibition on communities of color, in particular, Portland's African American community. In September 2018, I was pleased to introduce and pass social equity policies, which allow us to offer reduced licensing fees for small businesses (with additional reductions for those who utilize women and minority-owned contractors), owners who have marijuana-related convictions, and businesses who employ those with prior convictions. Additionally, we continued our efforts to streamline the process and were able to demonstrate our fiscal responsibility by reducing fees for all license types.
BUREAU OF DEVELOPMENT SERVICES (BDS): BDS made many significant strides under my leadership before the Mayor reassigned the bureau to himself last fall. I'm pleased to report that BDS issued its first ever online permit last summer and that the bureau is moving ahead on implementing an update to the permitting system that will enable all permits to be reviewed and issued online. At my direction, BDS hired a small business liaison to help small businesses and nonprofits navigate our permitting system. Last February, the City Council adopted new regulations developed by BDS staff that will protect people, particularly children, from lead dust and asbestos during demolitions. A special shout out to Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer and Senator Michael Dembrow who sponsored state legislation that made our local regulations possible.
PORTLAND BUREAU OF TRANSPORTATION (PBOT): When Mayor Wheeler assigned PBOT to me last September, my Chief of Staff, Policy Director and I promptly signed up for a Portland Traffic + Transportation Course at Portland State. Congressman Blumenauer launched the course 29 years ago when he was Portland’s Transportation Commissioner. It was an invaluable experience: we gained a better understanding of transportation issues past and present and connected with transportation and neighborhood activists from around the city. The class played an important role in helping me pass a visionary plan, Central City in Motion, to make downtown Portland easier and safer to navigate for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders. Other highlights of the first couple of months as PBOT Commissioner include: eliminating the difficult to administer leaf pickup fee, participating in a forum about transportation issues with Speaker Kotek and other leaders in North Portland, and getting to know the incredibly talented and dedicated staff at PBOT.
ARTS & CULTURE: My office already had a strong focus on celebrating and showcasing our arts and culture community, but I was thrilled to be named the new Arts Commissioner last September. We participated in the development of an arts affordability plan spearheaded by Commissioner Fish's office, as well as the hiring process for the new Executive Director of Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) and the City of Portland Arts Manager. Thanks to my arts liaison, Pollyanne Faith Birge, we also exhibited and presented over 100 artists and organizations, and produced 18 events that brought over 2500 people to City Hall.
HOUSING: We were happy to support the creation of the SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy in acknowledgment of transits role in gentrification and displacement and lays out an anti-displacement strategy far in advance of the SW Corridor Lightrail Project. We also formalized an agreement with TriMet to give the City of Portland the opportunity to purchase land used for the construction of the Lightrail Project using housing bond dollars to build at least 700 new units of affordable housing.
Our historic Relocation Ordinance was made permanent in 2018. Relo has helped slow down rent increases, keep people in their existing housing, and helps renters who are being involuntarily displaced through no fault of their own to afford to move. It has also had an unanticipated side benefit; we've seen an uptick in inspection requests by renters living in substandard, unsafe units now they have protection against retaliation through no cause evictions or exorbitant rent increases. Portland renters are safer and more stable, but we still have a housing crisis due to rents being out of step with average incomes, and a gross mismatch between the type of housing being built and actual need.
COMBATING HATE AND PROTECTING IMMIGRANT’S RIGHTS: 2018 marked the continuation of increasingly aggressive attacks on immigrant rights. Fortunately, Portlanders continuously organized and showed up to resist these attacks and to support immigrant and refugee communities. I was proud to stand with advocates to defeat the attempted repeal of our sanctuary state policy, to call for the abolition of ICE and to advocate for continued funding for Portland United Against Hate (PUAH) as they develop a community-based approach to tracking and responding to hate incidents. Another highlight was supporting the Urban League's commemoration of the life of Mulugeta Seraw, including the installation of commemorative street sign toppers in the Kerns neighborhood. Finally, I was honored to receive CAUSA’s American Dreamer Award for championing the effort to secure $500k for the legal defense of Portlanders facing deportation. This would not have been possible without the incredible coalition of immigration legal service providers and community advocates, who give me hope in challenging times.
Next month we'll take a look forward at 2019, starting with the historic moment we just celebrated by seating Portland's first African American woman Commissioner and Portland's first woman majority City Council.