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Commissioner Steve Novick

Official Website for Commissioner Steve Novick

Phone: 503-823-4682

fax: 503-823-4019

1221 SW 4th Ave. Suite 210, Portland, OR 97204

A Few Thoughts After Last Week's Tragedies

In the wake of last week's tragic violence, I want to share two things--Charles Blow's column in the New York Times on Friday, and Robert Kennedy's speech after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The messages delivered by Blow, a black journalist in 2016, and RFK, a white senator in 1968, share the same impact—even delivered 48 years apart. Both men expressing heartbreak over senseless racial violence, both men encouraging everyone to recognize that, yes, “all lives matter,” but all lives don’t matter until black lives do, in fact, matter.  

Hundreds of journalists and activists have published hundreds of articles and op-eds in the past week, all of which can give you a better cultural understanding of the past week’s events than your elected officials. I do want to add one thought of my own: in countries like Great Britain, shootings of all kinds, including by the police, are extremely rare—because very few people, including police, have guns.

As Blow so eloquently said last week:

Anger and vengeance and violence are exceedingly easy to access and almost effortlessly unleashed.

The higher calling — the harder trial — is the belief in the ultimate moral justice and the inevitable victory of righteousness over wrong.

This requires an almost religious faith in fate, and that can be hard for some to accept, but accept it we must.

The moment any person comes to accept as justifiable an act of violence upon another — whether physical, spiritual or otherwise — that person has already lost the moral battle, even if he is currently winning the somatic one.

When we all can see clearly that the ultimate goal is harmony and not hate, rectification and not retribution, we have a chance to see our way forward. But we all need to start here and now, by doing this simple thing: Seeing every person as fully human, deserving every day to make it home to the people he loves.

Staying Safe this Fourth of July

The Fourth of July holiday is typically one of the busiest times of the year for the Bureau of Emergency Communications, which answers calls to 9-1-1 and the Police non-emergency line (503.823.3333) and dispatches help.  Stay safe while enjoying the holiday with friends and family.

Fireworks are a big reason for the increase in calls to the Bureau over the Fourth of July.  Oregon law bans possession, use, or sale of any fireworks that fly, explode, travel more than one foot into the air or more than six feet on the ground.  Often, legal and illegal fireworks used in neighborhoods during this holiday result in thousands of complaints.  Many illegal fireworks are visible for miles and can result in dozens of calls to 503.823.3333, tying up call takers.  There are some other resources available this weekend for reporting fireworks:

  • Portland Fire & Rescue has developed an online reporting form where Portlanders can file reports about the use of illegal fireworks in the City of Portland.  To report fireworks on this form, go to  This online form is intended to help track illegal fireworks use.  While filing a report will not automatically send out an enforcement team, it will allow the City to identify the areas where enforcement is needed.  The data will also be used to identify areas that have a high volume of illegal fireworks use so we can increase education and enforcement efforts in the future.
  •  Also, Portland Fire & Rescue will be staffing (503) 823-BOOM (2666) during peak fireworks periods.  You can call this number to report illegal fireworks.

Even with these tools available, we anticipate high call volume to 9-1-1 and (503) 823-3333 this weekend.  The Bureau of Emergency Communications schedules extra staff to cover these shifts, but call volume may still cause increased call hold times.  You can help by calling 9-1-1 only when necessary.

As always, call 9-1-1 if you have a life threatening emergency and need an immediate response from Police, Fire, or an ambulance. Call 9-1-1 to stop a crime in progress, report a fire, or call for an ambulance.  Do not call 9-1-1 to report fireworks unless there is an active fire hazard.  Examples of active fire hazards include aerial fireworks that have caught a roof on fire and fireworks shot directly at a person.  Instead, help keep your neighborhood safe by calling (503) 823-BOOM or (503) 823-3333 to report illegal fireworks, or use the online form.  Call (503) 823-3333 for all other non-emergency issues.   And, please know that the Bureau of Emergency Communications answers calls to 9-1-1 first, even when a call to 503-823-3333 has been holding longer.  If you call 503.823.3333 you may be put on hold without warning so the call taker can respond to a 9-1-1 call.   

Best wishes for a safe and happy holiday weekend.

Addressing the Need for Affordable Housing

Portland is experiencing growing pains. We have an incredible parks system, well-respected public schools, a strong business community, and each neighborhood in our city has its own unique character. The rest of the country has taken notice, and we have thousands of new Portlanders to show for it. On the one hand, our increased population means that we have attracted impressive talent that enhances our economy and universities, as well as our culinary and artistic communities. Our quality of life and corresponding prominence on the national stage are great for Portlanders. On the other hand, growth means that our housing market is stretched thin.

Portland will continue to grow over the next 20 years. We anticipate that 260,000 new residents will join the 620,000 Portlanders who live here today. Absent a significant increase in supply, that population growth will continue to drive up the cost of housing. This is a huge problem, especially for the most vulnerable people in our community.

Thousands of families are forced to move every year because of rent increases, and sometimes more than once. For example, consider a family that will have to move out when their rent increases from $800 dollars to $1,400. A family facing such a steep increase may not be able to afford to rent a new apartment in the same school district, so they need to pull their kids out of school, putting them behind.

Currently, tens of thousands of Portlanders spend at least 30% of their income on rent.  When a family pays more than 30% of their income on housing, they don’t have enough left over to afford other necessities like food, clothes, and medical expenses. In the city budget this year, Council made a significant commitment to housing with $29 million in new investments in housing and homeless services.  And now, we are taking action on more strategies to address homelessness as well as the need for affordable housing.

Last week, Council took a historic step and partnered with Multnomah County to create the Joint Office for Homeless Services. The agreement, which transfers existing City and County programs that address homelessness to the Joint Office, establishes a baseline funding commitment of $15 million a year each from the City and the County. By combining City and County resources and knowledge, we should be able to work more efficiently to help the 4,000 people who sleep on our streets each night.

I am excited about the potential success of this historic partnership.  However, I’m concerned that, based on the City’s budget this year, we are $3.5 million short of our $15 million commitment. To address this funding gap, I have proposed a Council work session in the fall to discuss strategies, and I am confident that we will prioritize resources for this important need. 

Yesterday, Council adopted a Construction Excise Tax (CET) on commercial and residential development as an additional revenue source for affordable housing for families who earn below 60% median family income (MFI). For years, we’ve been preempted by the Legislature from enacting construction excise taxes. This has been unfortunate since development has costs, and a construction excise tax can be a logical revenue source to help us pay for those costs. Thanks to the Legislature’s action earlier this year, we now have this tool in our toolbox, and I’m glad that’s the case. If this tax had been in place for the past five years, the Housing Bureau estimates that the CET would have raised about $8 million. Taking this step now will help prevent the continued displacement of low income families and people of color from our city.

I have heard loud and clear that Portlanders are feeling the effects of our tight housing market and that significant commitments from your government are important to you. Together, these actions demonstrate City Council’s commitment to addressing the housing crisis, and I’m proud to support them.

Portland's New Work Zone Guidelines

This morning, City Council adopted a resolution to create safe accommodations for pedestrian and cyclists in and around construction work zones. Through this adoption, the Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has greater authority to provide safe, convenient, ADA-compliant routes for pedestrian and bicyclists through construction sites. PBOT expects to fully incorporate these guidelines into the building permit process for new projects in 2017.

Strong economic conditions and a high demand for housing have resulted in a development boom.  One of the consequences of that boom is that some pedestrian walkways and bicycle lanes have been closed, making everyone more vulnerable to serious injuries. Under the new work zone guidelines, barricades, mobility ramps or pavement markings alongside a construction site will be considered before directing pedestrians and bicyclists across the street.

Over the next few months, PBOT will initiate education and enforcement campaigns for these new standards. PBOT has already begun working with contractors to help them adjust their work plans. Next year, Portlanders will have an easier time navigating construction sites throughout the city. Portland families deserve safe streets on which to walk, bike, operate mobility devices, access transit, and drive. PBOT aims to make our transportation system the safest possible and to move toward zero traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries in the next 10 years.

Commissioner Novick's Statement Regarding the Proposed Use of State Volkswagen Settlement Funds for Clean Diesel Program

(June 28th, 2016) — I commend Governor Kate Brown and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum for today’s announcement about the settlement with Volkswagen relating to emissions fraud. Further, I support the Governor’s announcement that $68 million from the settlement will be used to reduce diesel emissions from trucks and other eligible sources under Oregon Department of Environmental Quality programs. I remain deeply concerned about the effect diesel emissions have on the health of Portlanders and am committed to supporting policies that further the goal of better public health. As the Governor said today, diesel pollution is the number one air quality threat in our state. According to a new report from the Oregon Environmental Council, dirty diesel causes more fatalities than traffic crashes and burdens Oregon with up to $3.5 billion a year in health costs and lost productivity. Moreover, dirty diesel emissions disproportionately affect neighborhoods with more low income and people of color.

Operators can upgrade their diesel engines to stop dirty diesel emissions, and Washington and California have adopted policies to require this proven solution (Oregon has not, and as a result we have become a dumping ground for dirty diesel engines).  The upgrades are costly, and in many cases the owners of the “dirty diesel” equipment are small businesses with limited ability to pay.  Recognizing that, Washington and California have invested considerable funds in retrofitting trucks and construction equipment.  Last week during City Council’s consideration of the marijuana tax ballot measure, clean air advocates called attention to the need for State and local action on this important issue, including allocating funds to speed the transition to cleaner diesel engines.  Now, the Governor’s announcement makes clear that there will be funds available for this important priority.  It should be easier for the Legislature to adopt Washington/California-style clean diesel rules if there are funds available to assist small businesses. 

In past years, the City Council has advocated for the State Legislature to address diesel pollution, and I am fully committed to making more progress in 2017.