Tina Kotek hates your neighborhood

When I first laid eyes on Portland in the late '70s, one of the main things I loved about it was the abundance of single-family homes. And not just the big, fancy ones. What I couldn't get over were the blocks and blocks of modest single-family homes, where even middle-class families could have 5,000 square feet of lot, with room for a garden or even a backyard pool. And a driveway! If you couldn't afford to buy such a house, you could rent one; there were plenty to go around. You couldn't get that in Seattle, and so I stayed here.

But not long after that, war was declared on the Portland single-family home. The real forces behind the attack were real estate developers and construction guys, but they were slick enough to have the "urban planning" crew, especially the Portland State University team, run interference for them. Eventually, the ultimate real estate marsupial, Homer Williams, started taking Mayor Vera Katz out to dinner, and next thing you knew, the high-rise shinola started going up in earnest all over town. There were cranes everywhere you looked, slapping up schlock bunkers with no parking – the better to make those middle-class homeowners next door miserable. Nowadays, many of them must buy a permit and pay hundreds a year just to park somewhere near the front of their house.

When the apartment dudes had overbuilt the place and scarred nearly every neighborhood except the West Hills, they needed a new pitch, and they got it in spades when one of them decided they should all pose as the saviors of the homeless. The homeless! All the problems of the street people could be solved if only the Usual Suspects could build even more, and cheaper, apartments everywhere. "It's for the homeless" has become the new "It's for the children," justifying one abomination after another, including in the land use arena.

And the politicians have played right along. Lately the worst villainy in this regard has come not from City Hall, but from the state Legislature down in the Flat-EEG Zone, a.k.a. Salem. Last year, our elected representatives went and outlawed single-family-home zoning in cities. Which means that if the clown who owns the lot next door to you wants to slap up a big, tacky duplex where a regular single-family home has stood for a hundred years, there's nothing anyone – including your local City Council with all its zoning ordinances – can do to stop him.

That one seemed to go down our collective throat without too much squawking, and so this week, emboldened, the Legislature has gone on to invalidate zoning that would prevent "nonprofits" and "government agencies" from slapping up low-income apartment buildings on land that they own. Forget the tacky duplexes; now Salem says the city has to allow a low-income housing project anywhere a church, or government district of one kind or another, wants to put one. Zoning be damned.

It's breathtakingly bad news for the neighborhoods. Given how easy it is to put together a bogus "nonprofit," and given the countless "public-private partnerships" and "coalitions" that foist scam after scam on the taxpayers, there are going to be a lot of apartments going in where once they would have been unthinkable. And not nice apartments packed with employed hipster tenants, either. The new projects will be constructed cheaply and populated by poor souls dealing with personal issues far beyond selecting tonight's IPA.

It will take a while for the impact of these laws to become apparent. One neighborhood after another (except perhaps the richest ones on the far west side) will experience a shock, over a period of several years, each time with outraged neighbors asking, "Since when can you do that?" Well, since now.

It gets worse. On top of all of the above, the Salem solons have also decided to restrict municipalities' powers to prohibit, or even regulate, street camping. Supposedly this second new state law just codifies a federal constitutional right to camp, recently "discovered" by the federal Ninth Circuit court, but if that's true, there was no need for a state statute. The point of it seems to be to reinforce the message that nice, clean little cities full of single-family homes aren't valued, and in fact aren't wanted, in Oregon any more. If you have a car and a family and a job and a life, get out of the city and make room for the transients.

* * * * *

Who's running this show? The state Senate is led by Peter Courtney, a Salem resident who turns 107 years old next week, and the House speaker is Tina Kotek, a north Portlander who makes up for a lack of charm with endless bad judgment. And all of their sausages, bulging with lawmaking stupid, are signed into law by the governor, Killer Kate, who you once thought would know better but now, gosh, you wonder.

And let's not single those three out. It's not just the "leadership" that makes laws. We also have the representatives from our own districts to "thank." People like Ginny Burdick and Michael Dembrow and Lew Frederick and Rob Nosse. 

What on earth are they thinking? It sure beats me. But if I first laid eyes on Portland right now, it's not a place I would choose to make a home. And the birds in Salem are moving to the front of the pack of culprits to blame.


  1. My heavens! Won't someone think of the children. To think. A duplex!

  2. Many of these "plans" were created by Metro decades ago. But good points about creating narratives to hide the real agenda of destroying perfectly good houses to benefit the few. And to pit one group of working class against another. Happened in Philly, Detroit, Chicago in the 50s and 60s with predictable tragic results.

  3. This is the price of keeping land outside the UGB just affordable enough for the landed gentry to buy hobby farms and become ersatz winemakers (while they tell us its all about preventing sprawl and fighting climate change).

    1. That's the official line, but I'm not buying it. Portland population grows 1% a year, when it grows at all. The place is overbuilt.

    2. I also don't buy it. Even with its UGB, land values here pretty much mirror the real estate situations in other west coast urban markets, some of which are outstripping the increase in PDX prices. The UGB is not yet the issue, the issue is selling out to special real estate interests, prolly to line their own campaign coffers.

  4. I'm sorry, Jack, but your timeline is off by decades. Fingering Vera et al is a latecomer's faux pas.

    I urge you to find out about Harry Mittleman, Joe Weston, and the Schnitzers (remember the Schnitzers?). All 'old pros' in the real estate development game in PDX. They all had their 'pocket commissioners' and 'mentored' their favorite state legislators. Portland politicians have been in the pockets of these scoundrels long before Vera and Sammy stumbled in to their political campaign lifelines.

  5. I lived surrounded by Joe Weston specials for years. They were awful, and some beautiful homes were torn down to put them up, but at least they were two-story motel-looking things that were relatively unobtrusive. And everybody had a parking space. I'd take those over the six-story monstrosities that Williams and his contemporaries have gotten away with. They put way more over on Vera than the original crew ever did. The "urban planning" folks took it to a new level.

    And don't forget Saltzman.

    1. Touche on the Saltzman. But, I'll disagree with your definition of 'unobtrusive' with regards to 'Weston specials'. My term then, and now, is 'eyesores'. But, yes, they did not choke the streets with developers lies...all the cars that those 'bicyclists, pedestrians, and mass transit users' brought with them in the latest iteration of 'multiple family housing'. Yeah, riiiight.

      And none of it does anything to address homelessness. Not a fig.


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