The City That Just Doesn't Work


Portland has so many problems, and its politics are making sure that none of them will be solved any time soon.

Take the gun violence that is plaguing the place. So far this year, there have been 25 homicides within the city limits, mostly with guns. You math majors can figure out that that's a rate of 100 homicides a year. Last year there were 55, and that was the highest total in 26 years. Gun violence is officially out of control.

The mayor, Dud Wheeler, wants more cops, but the rest of the city council isn't buying it. Apparently they'd rather have a team of social workers visit the victims in the hospital, and try to talk them into changing their lives. At least that's what commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty seems to want, and it sounds like the other three council members are on her side.

Wheeler’s proposal, announced earlier this month, calls for $2 million in one-time funding to allow more proactive policing on city streets with greater civilian oversight and data collected and publicly shared on police stops and arrests.

The plan would bring back a uniformed team of two sergeants and 12 officers to try to intercept and seize guns and work to prevent shootings and retaliatory violence in the city. The team also would respond to shootings, do follow-up investigations and engage with people who are at risk of gun violence.

Wheeler’s plan was crafted with the help of the Interfaith Peace-Action Collaborative, which is made up of clergy, social workers, police and Black community members who have longstanding ties to the mayor and law enforcement.

However, the proposal quickly drew fire from Hardesty, who criticized the mayor and the collaborative for unveiling it before informing her and other city commissioners of its existence.

The commissioner also said she wanted money for gun violence prevention to go into boosting community-based programs, such street outreach workers or Healing Hurt People, which sends support workers to help shooting victims and their families in hospitals.

It's so Portland. Until we can solve all the social ills that cause gang warfare, we'll do nothing to police it. Good luck walking the streets under that program. 

Then there's traffic. The state wants to widen I-5 near the Rose Quarter. It squeezes down to two lanes there, which is as narrow as any stretch of the interstate throughway between Mexico and Canada. But this being Portland, we can't seem to get anything like a road expansion done. 

There are so many reasons. The biggest is that it's official government policy, indeed religious dogma, to hate cars. We're all supposed to get around on bicycles and trains. Sure.

This week saw some comedy on that front. The highway birds thought they'd throw a bone to the bikey set by working into the drawings a dedicated bus lane in either direction, but surprise! There are no buses using that part of the freeway, and the pork pot attendants at the mass transit agency, Tri-Met, aren't the least bit interested in using them. Nobody asked the Tri-tips about the bus lane before the highway planning overlords threw it in. Ha! Ha!

Even if the car haters weren't whining every time a road gets improved, nothing can be done in Portland without multiple other agendas being served. In this case, action is forbidden without correcting the injustices of 50 years ago, when an established Black community was driven out of the neighborhood that once stood where the freeway runs now. Without somehow repairing that damage, we must continue to live with a clearly inadequate stretch of interstate highway.

Which ties into the ultimate agenda, which controls everything in this part of the world: the developer and construction weasels. They'll tell you whatever you need to hear, and in this case, the story is apparently that the widened freeway needs to be capped with... ding! you guessed it... crappy apartments! Maybe a few Black people could get overpriced flats over the freeway. Why isn't that part of the project?

But politically more significant are the criticisms of the proposed bus lanes coming from Metro Council President Lynn Peterson, a traffic engineer who previously headed the Washington Department of Transportation....

Apart from skepticism that ODOT is sincerely adding bus lanes, Peterson says the problem is that a wider highway makes it more expensive to build caps above the freeway. Such caps would restore Albina, a Black neighborhood that was displaced decades ago.

"I want this project to stitch back the Albina community, not tear it apart," Peterson says, "which means having a lid that can be a base for development in a seamless pedestrian connection over I-5. Every added foot of width adds cost and, in this case, seemingly unnecessary cost. If ODOT is going to meet my expectations of restorative justice through this project, they need to do better."

Adding caps to make room for a new neighborhood over the highway is an idea that has significant political backing in Portland, and it's not yet clear how ODOT moves forward in the face of such objections.

It's reminiscent of the situation that prevailed for so many years at the crazy intersection of 12th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard. It was a traffic nightmare for decades. Then Sam the Tram Adams, the weasels' favorite politician, took over as mayor, and miraculously, the mess got straightened out. But funny thing, the intersection was improved only so that it could be surrounded by big, ugly apartment bunkers, with parking on the formerly public land where the street used to be.

Now it's the same deal with the freeway. The road sits in its clogged squalor until the ransom is paid to the weasels. It's all about "equity." We must stitch The Community back together.  Metro will right the wrongs.

If you believe that, I have an aerial tram you might want to buy. 

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