I have a vision for our city that I believe most of you support. A city where everyone has a safe, stable, affordable roof over their head. A city where all residents, regardless of their zip code, are healthy, safe, and have access to quality education and jobs. A city that raises the bar on environmental standards for the rest of the country from combating climate change to building a green economy. A city that learns from its mistakes, and doesn't just acknowledge them, but acts to remedy them. A city that is just, equitable, and inclusive.
We have a lot to be proud of in Portland, but we have a lot of work left to do. We can only achieve this vision by working together. And we can only work together if everyone feels welcome at the table and entitled to participate. This is the only way we will ever understand the unique needs and challenges represented across our entire city. The city government must do everything within its power to encourage, facilitate, and support civic engagement among all communities. Especially those that are underrepresented, have been harmed by past public policy, or who are currently not well served.
Portlanders identify and organize in a variety of ways, including groups based on geographic area (typically neighborhoods, districts, or quadrants), identity (such as race, sexual orientation, or disability), or issues (like climate change, cyclists, or housing). But currently, the only groups that the Office of Community and Civic Life officially recognizes in City Code are geographically based, such as neighborhood associations. There is no denying that neighborhood associations do vital work with limited resources. From advocacy at City Hall to neighborhood cleanup events to annual block parties, our all-volunteer run neighborhood associations make invaluable contributions to the overall well-being and livability of our city.
It is also true that neighborhood associations, in general, do not reflect the full diversity or even the average demographics of our city, including but not limited to age, race, gender, education, income, disability, immigration status, homeownership status, and sexual orientation. By stating this fact, I am not attacking or discounting neighborhood associations. I recognize their value. There are a variety of reasons for this reality, but I place the lion's share of the blame on the City for failing to develop more inclusive policies and practices over the past 45 years. I am determined to change that.
I am determined to change that not by dismantling the neighborhood system, as some have claimed, but by recognizing other groups in City Code. By ensuring that all groups--geographic, identity, or issue-based--feel welcomed and included by the bureau charged with civic engagement for the whole city. Several months ago, I welcomed an impressive and diverse group of community members for the first code change committee meeting (Committee 3.96). I was moved that they were all willing to volunteer their time and expertise to the project. But especially by those who represented communities harmed by past actions of the city and who have good reason to distrust government. I gave them no specific instructions or agenda beyond wanting more equitable and inclusive code guiding the work of the bureau. It was the last time I communicated with the group as a whole.
After a year of public engagement by Civic Life, and months of deliberation by the committee, Committee 3.96 took a final vote on the code change proposal. All but two committee members supported it. But long before that happened, a concerted misinformation campaign was launched against them, the bureau, me, and the intentions behind the code change. Unfortunately, if a lie is repeated often enough, people are likely to believe it. Before I had even had a chance to consider or further develop the proposal with staff and community, let alone present it to my colleagues or the public, I was sidetracked by trying to correct the falsehoods being spread and repeatedly pilloried in local media by outlets that had never spoken with me on the topic.
It was initially hard for me to see past the wild speculations and false accusations to hear the legitimate concerns behind them. No one is at their best when under attack. Because of this controversy, the rest of Council backed away from Code Change before they heard from me or the numerous organizations, elected officials, community leaders and advocates who support it (see link below for a comprehensive list). I found myself having to defend the committee, the bureau, my staff, and my intentions instead of having meaningful and productive conversations about the proposal. Over the next several weeks, I will finally be having those conversations with the community, all involved bureaus, and my colleagues. I have a list of questions I need answered and ideas to vet. The proposal may look different than it does now, but there is widespread agreement on the values asserted and the fundamental purpose of a more equitable and inclusive policy. My goal is that we increase and improve civic engagement across the entire city, which will lead to better and more informed decision making, and improved outcomes for everyone.
My deepfelt appreciation goes out to Committee 3.96 and participating bureau and office staff for their work on code change and their service to the city. We've been having conversations about equity and diversity within our neighborhood system for forty years. This is at least the third attempt to change the code. It's time for change. I also want to thank everyone who has been brave enough to lend their support to this contentious issue. I want to take a moment to appreciate the Auditor’s Office for their 2016 audit—Community and Neighborhood Involvement: Accountabiliy limited, rules and funding model outdated—which has been a touchstone for many of the changes I have made at the bureau. Finally, I'm appreciative of everyone who has engaged in respectful and productive dialogue on code change whether they support the proposal or not. We have a lot of work left to do. We have to move forward together. This code change is a just one step in a long journey toward the city we all deserve.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly