1221 S.W. 4th, Room 240, Portland, OR 97204
I inherited both utility bureaus four and a half years ago. I was the first Commissioner since Dan Saltzman to lead both.
There is logic behind this pairing since we send a combined water, sewer, and stormwater utility bill to our customers.
When I took over, the Water Bureau in particular was generating significant controversy. In my first year, we witnessed:
• A ballot measure, 26-156, that sought to strip the City of the utilities and create an independent water district.
• Continued challenges to federal regulations, like LT2, that impacted our historic reservoirs.
• Ongoing concerns about the use of ratepayer funds.
Four and a half years later, we’ve made significant progress:
• We have new leadership at both bureaus.
• We sharpened our focus on basic services and spending ratepayer dollars wisely.
• The proposed water district was defeated in May of 2014 with 72% of the vote.
• We worked with the community on a path forward for both the Mt. Tabor and Washington Park reservoirs, embracing community-led visions.
• We appointed a Blue-Ribbon Commission, chaired by Dwight Holton, which led to the creation of the Portland Utility Board.
• We forged the first-ever partnership between a city and the Oregon Citizen's Utility Board, adding additional oversight.
• This Council recently made a historic decision to protect the Bull Run Watershed for the next hundred years by choosing to filter our water.
• And, just this week, the City and the Oregon Health Authority entered into a regulatory agreement that will give us 10 years to build the filtration facility.
Today, we close out the last chapter of the water wars.
Both the City Attorney and CFO recommend that we accept this proposed settlement, which represents a fraction of the money plaintiffs originally sought.
Significantly, because the case will be dismissed with prejudice, it preserves our understanding of what the Charter does and doesn’t provide.
We continue to believe that City Council, not a judge, is best suited to make decisions about our utilities.
By accepting this settlement, we’re turning the page and moving forward.
Thanks to Sonia Schmanski and Todd Lofgren on my team; Tracy Reeve and Karen Moynahan in the City Attorney’s Office; Ken Rust, our CFO; and Mike Stuhr, Gabe Solmer, and the many bureau staff members who worked tirelessly throughout this process.
Although some may view this settlement as anticlimactic, the lawsuit has had a positive effect in refocusing City leadership on the core mission of the utilities.
I vote “Aye.”
This morning, we marked the successful completion of the City’s All-User Restroom Challenge.
Nick joined community partners and local businesses at a celebration hosted by OHSU.
His remarks are below.
Thank you all for joining us this morning here at OHSU’s Center for Health and Healing.
Before we start, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the doctors, nurses, and staff here at OHSU’s Knight Cancer Institute for their excellent treatment as I battle cancer.
We’re here today to officially celebrate the completion of the All-User Restroom Challenge.
I’m very proud to be joined this morning by our hosts from OHSU, and our community partners:
In April of this year, I issued a challenge to the business community: step up and do your part to help remove arbitrary barriers in our community by converting your single-stall, gender-specific restrooms to All-User.
As we all know by now, when you remove arbitrary barriers in our community, everyone wins: parents with a young child, an older adult or a disabled person with an attendant, transgender individuals, and anyone who simply doesn’t want to wait in a long line.
It’s why we changed the signs on over 600 single-stall restrooms in City facilities.
And it’s why we issued a challenge to our business community, rather than a mandate. We believed all along that our publicly spirited businesses didn’t need a mandate to do the right thing.
And we were right!
Businesses and buildings in every neighborhood and of every size took the challenge and changed the signs on their single-stall restrooms. We heard from small businesses in Multnomah Village and Foster Blvd who converted one or two individual restrooms, as well as our bigger partners like OHSU, New Seasons, and Powell’s who converted all of their gender-specific single-stall restrooms.
Today, when you visit OHSU, Powells, Red Castle Games, the No Bones Beach Club, The Circus Project, New Seasons, Le Pigeon, Street Roots, Mississippi Studios, or one of the hundreds of businesses or buildings that took the challenge, you’ll now find fewer barriers and more options.
This seems like such a basic idea. Change the sign on your restroom, and focus on what’s behind the door - a toilet - and not who gets to use it.
So today, we’re declaring victory in our challenge.
But we’re taking a bit of a leap of faith. We learned that changing a sign on a bathroom door is easy, but submitting a photo of your new sign was a bit of a pain. We’re constantly hearing from people who said they converted their restrooms, but we haven’t always been able to document it.
So, in the spirit of the holiday season, thank you to all the businesses who helped make this challenge a success.
This challenge wasn’t about me, or local government. And it wasn’t about any individual businesses. It’s about creating a community that we’re proud of. It’s about eliminating arbitrary barriers and increasing choices. It’s about doing the right thing.
Thank you all for coming out this morning, and thank you to everyone who has been involved in this process, from community partners who helped us craft the policy that the City adopted, to business owners that converted their restrooms.
On December 17, 2015, Commissioner Fish introduced Resolution #37175, which affirmed the City’s commitment to “removing barriers to a safe and inclusive workplace for employees, to creating spaces which are welcoming to all visitors, and to treating all people with respect and dignity.” It was approved unanimously by City Council.
On June 1, 2016, Council adopted the new policy which applies to “City-controlled” buildings – those that are both owned and occupied by the City.
On September 23, 2016, Commissioners Fish and Amanda Fritz celebrated the successful conversion of 600 single-stall restrooms in City facilities.
On April 4, 2017, Commissioner Fish challenged the Portland business community to do better than the City and convert 1,000 single-stall restrooms.
I write to wish you and your family a happy and healthy holiday season and to share some highlights from this year.
We faced unprecedented challenges in 2017. But we also witnessed the best in Portlanders – working together to build a stronger community and a better city. As my friend Wajdi Said says, “we need more love and light in the town square.” I am proud of the progress we made together.
My Cancer Treatment
In August, I was diagnosed with abdominal cancer. As I have learned, the path forward is a marathon, not a sprint. Still, I am filled with gratitude. We're making great progress. I have excellent doctors and nurses at OHSU’s Knight Cancer Institute and practitioners at An Hao Clinic. And I have a loving family and strong support from the community.
Millions of Americans are fighting cancer and other chronic diseases every day. They all deserve our compassion and support.
A New Budget
Our 2017-18 budget invests in homelessness, family-wage jobs, safe streets, and East Portland. Mayor Wheeler deserves credit for leading a collaborative and transparent process.
Housing for All
During a storm last winter, Karen Lee Batts died of hypothermia in a downtown parking garage. A shelter only a couple blocks away had room for her. For many people on our streets, especially those who struggle with mental health crises and addiction, shelter or traditional affordable housing simply isn’t enough.
Supportive housing is a nationally-recognized solution that combines a safe and deeply affordable permanent home with intensive services. In October, the City and Multnomah County adopted a vision, which I helped lead, of adding 2,000 units of supportive housing in the next 10 years.
We have also taken other important actions to address the housing crisis: opening new shelter beds, funding new affordable housing developments, extending the housing state of emergency, enacting historic renter protections, and making record investments in the Joint Office of Homeless Services.
- Celebrating the return of salmon to local creeks and designating Crystal Springs Creek Portland’s first Salmon Sanctuary.
- Announcing a plan to convert 100% of the methane gas from our sewage treatment process into renewable energy. “Poop to Power” is a triple win – reducing greenhouse gas emissions, replacing dirty diesel fuel with clean natural gas, and delivering a profit for our ratepayers.
- Approving a new tax incentive to help us clean up over 900 acres of brownfields.
In January, the EPA released its cleanup plan for the Portland Harbor Superfund site. We are committed to moving forward with implementing the Record of Decision. But recently, the City learned that several private parties have asked EPA to reconsider fundamental decisions and agreements. The move could potentially delay cleanup work by a decade or more. Mayor Wheeler and I wrote a letter calling for EPA to work with all stakeholders, not just a select few. EPA recently announced an improved agreement. Things are moving forward, and we’re keeping a close eye on the progress.
Protecting Water Quality and Affordability
Portland is fortunate to have an abundance of clean, safe, and reliable water. And we’re making long-term investments to maintain public health, safety, and affordability:
- This year, we detected trace amounts of the micro-organism Cryptosporidium in the Bull Run Watershed. Although our water remains safe to drink, our state and federal regulators revoked our limited-term treatment variance – the only one in the country. After robust public input and careful consideration, Council unanimously decided to build a filtration facility. It’s an investment in our future, protecting our water system from challenges like climate change, a natural disaster, or future regulations.
- Although our source water and distribution pipes are lead-free, some older homes have bad plumbing. We’re adjusting the pH of our water to keep lead from leaching out of bad pipes and faucets.
- Some of our neighbors need a little extra help paying their utility bill. We’re working on a plan to expand our nationally-recognized financial assistance program.
At a time of declining public trust in many institutions, including government, it is important that we earn that trust every day:
- We ask a lot of our citizen boards and commissions, and count on them for good advice. But we haven’t always given them the necessary tools to be successful. I led a reform effort to increase the transparency, accountability, and effectiveness of advisory bodies. It establishes long-overdue standards like mandatory disclosure of conflicts of interest, a uniform application, and robust training.
- I strongly supported Measure 26-189, sponsored by Auditor Mary Hull Caballero. It increases the independence of the elected City Auditor and passed overwhelmingly in the May election.
We stood up for our local DREAMers, demanding prompt action from Congress and funding a grant to the Oregon DACA Coalition to help offset the costs of DACA renewal. My newest staff member, Mariana Garcia Medina, herself a DREAMer, co-authored the resolution.
And I challenged the business community to convert their single-stall restrooms to all-user, removing an arbitrary and unnecessary barrier. Businesses eagerly stepped up and made their restrooms more accessible. And earlier today, we celebrated its successful completion!
Protecting Workers and Consumers
I continue to be concerned about the impact out-of-state technology companies – who refuse to play by our rules – have on consumers and workers.
Uber is a notoriously bad actor. They operated illegally, then tried to make an end run around Portland’s regulations. They hid a massive data breach for over a year. They attempted to strip workers of important rights. And it took a subpoena to get them to disclose how they evaded Portland regulators with “Greyball.” Next year, we will consider tougher regulations, including new ways to keep the public safe.
We are finalizing a registration system so the City knows who’s renting their home on Airbnb and HomeAway. It’s a simple way to make sure hosts have a business license and a working smoke detector.
And voters approved Measure 26-194, which I sponsored. It ensures that out-of-state companies like HomeAway pay the same lodging tax as a mom-and-pop bed and breakfast in St. Johns. A win for tax fairness.
Arts and Culture
I’m honored to serve as the City’s Arts Commissioner and liaison to the Regional Arts and Culture Council. This year brought a lot of changes to RACC and the arts in Portland:
- We’re working with the community to develop a plan for more affordable arts and performance spaces, which will increase economic activity and jobs.
- RACC Executive Director Eloise Damrosch retired after a long and distinguished career. I will work closely with the next leader to advance Portland’s vision of a vibrant, accessible, and equitable creative economy.
- At the request of Mayor Wheeler and me, Auditor Mary Hull Caballero is conducting the first-ever performance audit of RACC.
- In 2012, the City established a Creative Laureate to serve as the official ambassador to the arts community. We will announce the next Creative Laureate in early January.
Supporting Small Businesses and Good Jobs
As the City’s liaison to Venture Portland, the support system for our 50 neighborhood business districts, I am working to strengthen local businesses and grow good-paying jobs:
- Securing funding to continue a successful business incubator program in East and North Portland.
- Selling Terminal 1 – preserving scarce industrial land, generating good family-wage jobs, and delivering a solid return for ratepayers.
- Strongly supporting Community Benefits Agreements, which ensure that workers get high-road jobs and the training they need, while providing broader opportunities for women- and minority-owned businesses.
- Working with the Mayor to eliminate the “48-hour rule,” a key part of our police reform agenda.
- Launching a partnership with Project Search, providing opportunities at the City for people with disabilities.
- Presenting SMYRC and the Muslim Educational Trust with Spirit of Portland Awards.
- Celebrating Portland traditions like the Rose Festival and Veterans Day Parade.
Above and Beyond
The Water Bureau Emergency Management Team. They stepped up during the Eagle Creek Fire to make sure our water supply was safe.
In Praise of Heroes
We honor the heroism of Rick Best, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, and Micah David-Cole Fletcher, three strangers who intervened on behalf of two young women who were being harassed on a MAX train. Two of these brave heroes paid the ultimate price.
We recently lost former Mayor Vera Katz. I will never forget the time we spent together on the “Flight for Freedom” after 9/11. She spoke for all Oregonians, offering love and support for the people of New York. It was an honor to know Vera, and she leaves a lasting legacy.
Everything we do at City Hall requires collaboration. I am grateful to my City Hall team led by Sonia Schmanski, the public servants who work for my bureaus, my Council colleagues, and Portlanders across our city for the progress we made this year.
Thank you for the honor of serving our City.