Skip to Main Content View Text-Only

The City of Portland, Oregon

Office of the Ombudsman

A division of the Portland City Auditor's Office

phone: 503-823-0144

email: ombudsman@portlandoregon.gov

1221 SW 4th Avenue, Room 310, Portland, OR 97204

Transportation

Year

Problem

Resolution

2018

The owners of a small nursery faced unexpected safety upgrade costs when they moved their business to a new location. Later, Transportation required them to move a power pole and upgrade curb cuts to current standards. The owners said they could not afford all the unexpected costs and would have to close their business.

The Ombudsman investigated and found that Transportation had a fund for upgrading curb cuts. The Ombudsman recommended that the small business owners apply to have their curb included in the fund. Transportation agreed to include the curb, relieving the business from some of the costs. 

2018

The owner of two motorcycles was ticketed for parking without a neighborhood permit. The owner has a head injury that impairs her memory and felt it was unfair to ticket her motorcycles when she was trying to comply with the program.

The Ombudsman recommended that Parking Enforcement cancel the tickets and accommodate her disability. Parking Enforcement agreed.

2018

An Idaho woman temporarily moved to Portland to care for her ailing mother. Her registration tags expired, so she stopped driving her car and left it parked on the street. Over a five-week period, Transportation cited her three times for failure to display current registration.

Transportation left notice on the window of her car warning that her vehicle would be towed as "abandoned." She was then given an abandoned vehicle citation and her vehicle was towed. To retrieve her vehicle, she had to pay towing and storage fees. She complained that she did not know it was illegal to park on the street with expired tags and that she had not abandoned her vehicle.

The Ombudsman questioned Transportation’s exercise of its enforcement discretion that resulted in the woman facing $900 in charges because her registration tags expired. Parking Enforcement agreed to cancel the citations for failure to display registration. It also agreed to reconsider the practice of issuing a citation for "abandoned" vehicle before towing. 

2018

A Portland woman needed a place to store her car until she could save enough money for repairs and updating the tags. A friend let her park it on what he thought was his lawn, but that turned out to be unimproved public right-of-way. Because the car had expired tags, Transportation towed it as “abandoned” after leaving several notices and citations on the car. The owner could not afford to pay the towing, storage and citations, so the car was scheduled for auction.

The Ombudsman questioned treating a car as abandoned solely because it has expired tags. The Ombudsman also argued against an outcome where a low-income vehicle owner would lose a valuable asset because she could not afford to buy new tags. A more proportionate penalty would be a single ticket and a notice of proposed tow mailed to the registered owner. 

With guidance from the commissioner-in-charge, Transportation secured release of the vehicle and cancelled her citations.

 

2018

Multiple private-for-hire companies challenged Transportation’s assessments of penalties for code violations. One company was fined $5,500 for a single instance of operating without a permit. Another company was given multiple $1,000-plus penalties in rapid succession.

The Ombudsman found that Transportation was not adequately documenting the basis for the alleged violations, was not providing companies an opportunity to correct before issuing another penalty and was not exercising enforcement discretion. 

Transportation agreed to reduce the penalties and recognized the need for additional policies and training for enforcement staff.

2018

A property owner sought to challenge Transportation’s assessment of several thousand dollars for repairing the sidewalk outside his house. The property owner disputed the need for the repairs and the accuracy of the assessment amount. 

The Ombudsman’s investigation found that Transportation had both neglected to inform the property owner of the possibility of performing minimal, less costly, repairs and to properly notify him of his right in City Code to appeal the assessment to City Council. 

Transportation agreed to allow the property owner to file an appeal to Council and revised its notice of violation template to apprise property owners of the option of performing minimal repairs.

2018

Parking Enforcement ordered a car towed from a no-parking zone. The owner complained that the signage was inadequate. He appealed the tow to the Hearings Officer, who upheld the tow.

The Ombudsman reviewed the factual circumstances of the tow and the City’s decision to deviate from national signage standards and concluded that the signage did not provide adequate warning of the parking restrictions. Transportation agreed to reimburse the owner for the cost of the tow and evaluate whether additional signage was necessary.

2018

Several people living in RVs complained to the Ombudsman that Transportation officials had towed, and in one case destroyed, their vehicles as part of the City’s effort to remove abandoned and derelict RVs from public streets.

The Ombudsman found that the tows were improper and not in service of any of the goals of the City’s derelict RV program. Transportation agreed to provide one resident additional time to retrieve his RV. The Ombudsman assisted another RV owner to submit a liability claim against the City and connected him with the Oregon Law Center for legal representation. 

2018

In 2016, the Bureau of Transportation began charging a transportation infrastructure fee to property owners building a home on property where the adjacent road was unimproved. The amount of the fee ranges from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and is based on the length of the property’s unimproved street frontage.

The Ombudsman received multiple complaints about the fee from several community members who said they could not afford the fee and would not be able to build a home on their property as a result. 

In a series of letters to City Council, written jointly with the Office of Equity and Human Rights, the Ombudsman expressed concerns about the inequitable impacts of the fee. The Ombudsman recommended Council create a low-income exemption from the fee, offer financing and provide for an impartial appeal process.

With Council’s support, Transportation amended the fee program to mitigate its inequitable impacts.

2017

A Portland resident’s stolen vehicle was recovered by law enforcement and towed to a private lot for safekeeping. As the owner of the vehicle, the resident was charged for the tow and various other fees, including a daily storage fee. After thirty days, the tow company had the authority to take the title of the vehicle and sell it at auction. The resident could not afford to pay the fee or personally retrieve the vehicle before the auction date, as she was unemployed and out-of-state for medical treatment.

Despite the City’s actions being consistent with policy, the Ombudsman asked the Bureau of Transportation to consider the matter further, given the unfairness and hardship the situation presented. The bureau persuaded the tow company to cap the fees and delay the auction. The Ombudsman also asked the law enforcement agency that ordered the tow to absorb the resident’s fees. The agency agreed. The owner arranged for a mechanic to tow and store her vehicle until her return.

2017

The Bureau of Transportation moved a disabled on-on-street parking spot from in front of a library branch to a street behind it. A disabled library user with limited mobility complained that the new spot forced her to painfully walk through the library parking lot to enter the branch. Although there was an additional disabled space in the library’s parking lot, it was often in use.

The Ombudsman investigated and found that the bureau had moved the accessible parking space to accommodate a corral for the City’s bikeshare program. The corral previously was located across the street, but people living in adjacent homes complained that the corral took parking spaces from in front of their homes. The bureau moved the disabled parking spot without consulting the its own American’s with Disabilities Act coordinator.

The Ombudsman raised concerns about the process and decision, and recommended that the bureau reconsider its decision and speak directly with the affected community member. After doing so, the bureau agreed to restore the disabled parking space to its former, accessible spot.

2017

A community member regularly attends public meetings of the Bureau of Transportation’s traffic safety committee. The Bureau provides materials to committee members prior to each meeting concerning issues on the agenda. The community member asked that he receive the same materials ahead of meetings, but the Bureau declined.

He also questioned the practice of allowing public testimony in the middle of meetings, rather than at the end, reasoning that if a member of the public wanted to raise a question about an issue that arose during the second half of the meeting, they would have to wait until the middle of the next meeting to do so.

The Ombudsman questioned why the Bureau was withholding documents that could be obtained via public records request. The Ombudsman also asked why public testimony was taken in the middle of a meeting, an unconventional practice. The Bureau agreed to provide the community member with the materials prior to the meetings. The Bureau also agreed to hear public testimony at the end of each meeting.

2017

A vehicle owner challenged the Bureau of Transportation’s tow of her motorcycle. Her motorcycle had been parked across the street from her apartment. Unbeknownst to her, the area parking permit affixed to the license plate had been stolen. City parking enforcement subsequently issued several citations. The citations were inserted behind the license plate, underneath the motorcycle’s cover. The vehicle owner did not see the citations, and eventually the Bureau towed the motorcycle. The City’s Hearings Office upheld the tow, citing a Code provision that says a vehicle cannot be parked in the public right-of-way for more than 24 hours.

The vehicle owner sought the Ombudsman’s assistance, arguing that the citations and tow were unfair and indicating she was unable to afford to pay for the release of her motorcycle. 

The Ombudsman investigated and found that the multiple citations and tow were an excessive and overly punitive response where a vehicle owner has paid for a parking permit. At most, the Bureau would have been justified in issuing a single citation for failure to display the parking permit. The Ombudsman noted various equitable reasons for providing the vehicle owner some relief.

The Ombudsman recommended that the Bureau of Transportation void the tow, pay for its release and waive all but one of the parking enforcement citations. The Bureau agreed to the recommendations and went even further, ultimately waiving all citations and paying for additional costs the vehicle owner incurred as a result of the tow.

2016

A property owner was nearing the end of the process to obtain approval from the City to build a new, single-family home in Southwest Portland. Shortly before the City was slated to approve his building permit, City Council adopted a new Local Transportation Infrastructure Charge. 

The Portland Bureau of Transportation determined that the property owner was subject to the new charge, which totaled $75,000. The owner stated that the new charge was cost-prohibitive and would prevent him from building his home.

The Ombudsman determined that the new charge should not apply to projects well underway at the time City Council adopted the new infrastructure charge. The bureau subsequently agreed to grandfather in the property owner under the rules in effect at the time he applied for a building application.

2016

A Portland taxi driver, whose livelihood had been driving a cab for 28 years, was denied a license re-certification after a criminal background check showed a 20-year-old conviction record. The taxi driver had been re-certified to drive a cab despite his conviction, but new City Code amendments that took effect in 2016 eliminated the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s discretion to re-certify based on mitigating circumstances. The unexpected denial of license re-certification created a significant financial hardship for the taxi driver and his family. 

The bureau agreed to issue a temporary license after the Ombudsman confirmed that the taxi driver had applied to have his record expunged and that the District Attorney’s office would not contest it. When the Circuit Court granted his expungement, the bureau re-certified the taxi driver.

2015

In 2008, a homeowner was required to connect to the City’s sewer system. To comply, the homeowner obtained a permit to work in the public right-of-way. The Bureau of Transportation required a cash bond in the amount of $100, which would be refunded upon completion of the work and passage of inspection two years later. The homeowner completed the work in 2009, which meant the refund should have automatically been issued in 2011. The homeowner was still waiting for a refund in 2015. After trying over the course of several years to obtain a refund from Transportation, the homeowner contacted the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman investigated and found that when the City moved to a new technology system, cash bond refunds stopped going out. Transportation did not remedy the problem and the homeowner’s case and others like it went unaddressed. At the Ombudsman’s prompting, Transportation finally issued the homeowner her refund.

2013

A complainant who is homeless contacted the Ombudsman contending that a Portland Bureau of Transportation’s no camping notice addressing the removal of personal property was inadequate and contained conflicting information. 

The Ombudsman agreed with the complainant’s contentions and raised concerns with Transportation and the City Attorney’s Office. Transportation explained that this particular notice was posted by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office without its authorization and was actually an outdated draft version of the notice. Transportation followed up with the Sheriff’s Office and clarified that it is not to post any campsites on its behalf.

Transportation’s final version of the notice had corrected most of the deficiencies; however, the Ombudsman remained concerned that the notice’s 1,500 feet clean-up radius was too large and ran afoul of applicable laws. On the Ombudsman’s recommendation, the bureau reduced the clean-up radius to 200 feet.