Portland Dispatch March 8: Missus Hardesty’s Neighborhoods

Under Portland’s city government its commissioners aren’t elected by geographic district, so they aren’t beholden to one. Thus progressives like (now former) councilmember Chloe Eudaly and Jo Ann Hardesty, the police abolitionist who came into office with the intention of “ending white Portland”, are less hindered by the bipartisan and practical concerns of a given neighborhood. Hardesty sees herself as representing black Portland, which she simply calls “the community”. Ironically, someone like Hardesty can reach office on the votes of white progressives and liberals and avoid the electoral wrath of such as the black Portlanders in neighborhoods absorbing the effects of her successful efforts to defund police and disband its gang unit, all while posturing as their champion.

Eudaly, whose role running the Office of Community and Civic Life and the city’s Bureau of Development was to overcome neighborhood opposition to multi-family housing in the name of density and the imposition of such as drug treatment centers and homeless shelters, dismissed neighborhood concerns by declaring she viewed herself more as “a renter” than a community resident.

With a relatively weak city government of four elected commissioners and a mayor whose power consists of chairing meetings and determining bureau assignments, the city’s neighborhoods have been able to resist government excess through a system of resident associations that began as unofficial organizations and were eventually recognized with tax funding and prerogatives originally designed to give a say to poorer and minority neighborhoods more likely to be disrupted by such as freeway construction.

The first organized neighborhood system grew up around the need for social services during the depression. Their activities were organized in small geographic areas usually using the boundaries of a neighborhood school.

This drew residents closer together as they got involved in helping their neighbors. These organizations lasted through the post war redevelopment period and into the 1950s.

At the beginning of the 1960s, there were no official neighborhood associations except for a few social clubs in well-to-do neighborhoods. However there were still many people in need, especially in deteriorating inner city neighborhoods.

This was a national issue across the country, so the Lyndon Johnson administration instituted the “War on Poverty.” One of the key components was the “Model Cities Program”.

This was begun in NE Portland’s African American communities in the mid 1960s. Federal requirements for the assistance dictated that decisions about local actions must include the people in the neighborhoods. This was the beginning of Portland’s official neighborhood associations.

The Portland Development Commission (PDC), the city’s Urban Renewal agency, became the official manager of the work. Inner SE neighborhoods felt they had an equal right to renewal assistance, but were being ignored because of local politics.

Unsurprisingly the poorer associations’ effectiveness has been unimpressive, while the smarter, better organized groups have used their prerogatives to resist overdevelopment and transformation. With the election of Eudaly and Hardesty their enemies set to dismantling them.

In July 2019 Chloe Eudaly led an effort to purge the associations from the city code in the name of equity:

A city committee advanced legislation on Thursday that would repeal the laws establishing Portland’s system of neighborhood associations.

In place of the old code, the 25-member panel recommended the full City Council adopt a set of “aspirational statements” that lay out the equity-focused responsibilities of the citizen engagement bureau, the Office of Community & Civic Life.

The change would likely have major effects if adopted. At its core, it would purge from civics code the neighborhood associations system, which has been hailed nationally as a potent example of citizen activism.

By August the inept Eudaly’s effort flopped after meeting strong resistance from the 95 associations. Text and email messages, obtained by The Oregonian, between her and staff revealed their shock at resistance and hostility toward the associations’ “white” and “privileged” members.

Eudaly’s changes would have gutted the associations.

Also repealed is the associations’ power to submit official comment to city agencies on “any topic” affecting a neighborhood’s livability, safety or economic vitality. So, too, is the responsibility that the government tell neighborhoods of any actions affecting them, such as zoning changes.

The list of deletions goes on: Requirements that neighborhoods open their meetings to the public and retain copies of records. A procedure for neighborhoods to file grievances about city actions. Even the responsibility to enforce noise control laws.

Leaders from Portland’s 95 neighborhood associations say adopting these changes would kneecap their organizations, which perform a variety of functions from picking up trash and hosting block parties to filing complex land-use appeals that opponents say stifle development.

Proponents of the change say it would not curtail neighborhoods’ influence but merely spread those powers to additional affinity groups such as those formed around religion or race. They say power has for too long been concentrated among neighborhood associations, which are controlled primarily by homeowners and may not reflect the interests of Portland’s diverse population…

Also repealed is the associations’ power to submit official comment to city agencies on “any topic” affecting a neighborhood’s livability, safety or economic vitality. So, too, is the responsibility that the government tell neighborhoods of any actions affecting them, such as zoning changes.

The list of deletions goes on: Requirements that neighborhoods open their meetings to the public and retain copies of records. A procedure for neighborhoods to file grievances about city actions. Even the responsibility to enforce noise control laws.

Leaders from Portland’s 95 neighborhood associations say adopting these changes would kneecap their organizations, which perform a variety of functions from picking up trash and hosting block parties to filing complex land-use appeals that opponents say stifle development.

Proponents of the change say it would not curtail neighborhoods’ influence but merely spread those powers to additional affinity groups such as those formed around religion or race. They say power has for too long been concentrated among neighborhood associations, which are controlled primarily by homeowners and may not reflect the interests of Portland’s diverse population.

A more effective enemy of the neighborhoods is Suk Rhee, Vietnamese immigrant and director of the city’s “civic engagement bureau”, the Office of Community and Civic Life, now under commissioner Hardesty’s purview; the office’s mandate conflicts with that of the neighborhoods and has been devoted entirely to equity:

  • Supporting communities in creating safe, fun, and inclusive neighborhoods.
  • Providing resources for immigrant and refugee communities.
  • Investing in community power by reinvesting cannabis tax funds into communities targeted and harmed by past cannabis prohibition.
  • Teaching communities about and providing resources for conflict resolution.
  • Supporting leadership development for Black Indigenous, people of color, immigrant, and refugee communities.
  • Helping businesses grow while protecting patrons and communities by leading safe, sensible, equitable, and environmentally-friendly regulation.
  • Building stronger communities by connecting neighborhood groups to resources and funding.
  • Connecting people to local government by inviting Portlanders to join advisory committees that impact policies and budgets.
  • Investing in programs to train diverse young leaders to engage in and lead on civic matters and creating a more representative local government…

Rhee defended the assault on neighborhoods as necessitated by the “American democracy’s history of white supremacy”.

Suk Rhee, the leader of Portland’s civic engagement bureau, on Friday defended her agency’s drive to lessen the powers of the city’ storied neighborhood associations, declaring the change necessary to make government more inclusive and stating emphatically that it is not meant to diminish the influence of neighborhoods…

The City Council ordered Rhee’s bureau in 2018 to reexamine city code regarding neighborhood associations in light of shortcomings identified by city auditors, including unequal funding to neighborhood groups and lax oversight of the spending. The bureau, the Office of Community & Civic Life, then convened a 25-member committee to suggest new code language.

A draft of the recommendation includes removing all mention of neighborhood associations and deleting requirements that the groups abide by state public records and open meetings laws. The draft addresses auditors’ spending concerns by requiring “an equitable distribution of public resources.”

Those potential changes have leaders of neighborhood associations worried that the promise of greater inclusivity is a pretext to curtail their powers for political reasons. In particular, they fear the government wants to lessen the influence of neighborhoods over land use decisions, such as those to build apartment complexes or high-rise towers, because the groups have stymied development to the annoyance of some local politicians…

“If someone tells you that I or we do not want neighborhood associations in the city of Portland, they’re not being truthful, and I want you to know I don’t lie,” Rhee said.

Civic engagement is a cornerstone of democracy, Rhee said, and it’s incumbent on the city government to make that system more inclusive. She said that is especially so given that American democracy “has its origins in white supremacy and economic exploitation.”

With the broader effort stalled for the time being and, now, with Hardesty’s slightly weakened position after losing ally Eudaly in the last election, they have turned their focus on one of the more recalcitrant and vulnerable groups which has been on their radar for some time, Southwest Neighborhoods Inc (SWNI), which represents such whiter, politer areas as Multnomah Village and Hillsdale, where opposition to multi-family housing is great.

In October of 2020 rogue current and former SWNI board members allied with Hardesty sued to force the organization to open up its books, citing a 2011 embezzlement conviction of a former board member

One current and one former board member of Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc. — a nonprofit responsible for fostering civic engagement in Southwest Portland — are suing the group, asking a judge to rule that district coalitions are and required to turn over records to the public.

Shannon Hiller Webb, a current board member, and Marie Tyvoll, who left the board this past summer, have been pushing to see years’ worth of records — including executive session minutes, emails, police reports and credit card statements. A former board member was convicted of embezzling $130,000 from the group in 2011, and Tyvoll and Hiller-Webb said they want to investigate potential financial wrongdoing. The plaintiffs said their public records requests were either ignored or denied.

Tyvoll won a 420,000 dollar settlement from Portland Public Schools last July.

Portland Public Schools has agreed to pay $410,000 to a former employee who claimed she was fired for repeatedly raising red flags over a lack of safety for seventh-graders working with band saws, nail guns and other dangerous equipment.

The Portland school board unanimously approved the settlement Tuesday.

Only $60,000 of that settlement will be covered by the district’s insurance. The other $350,000 will come out of the general fund, district spokeswoman Karen Werstein said.

The suit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court on Tuesday, asks the court to declare district coalitions in Portland are public bodies and responsible for turning over public records.

The effort to force SWNI to open the books was denied by then-District Attorney Rod Underhill, who has since been replaced by the strenuously progressive Mike Schmidt:

In May, after the members appealed the public records request, former Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill decided the group was not a public body and therefore not subject to Oregon’s public records law. The plaintiffs, represented by public records advocate Alan Kessler, asked the judge to reconsider, arguing the group should be considered a public agency because most of its money comes from the city. Last year, the city’s $307,000 grant accounted for 85% of SWNI’s budget, according to city documents.

Kessler is a ferociously anti-police gay Jew presently raising money for something called “Total Recall PDX” to remove Ted Wheeler for not cooperating fully with police abolition efforts and a supposed heavy hand in dealing with rioters.

SWNI turned over its records after its funding was withheld, and the city sicced the financial auditor Marsh Minick on them. The firm trashed the group for lax accounting procedures. Dissident SWNI board members featured this along with the usual charges of white supremacy and an insufficient commitment to “equity and inclusion” after the board resisted efforts to force them to pay eight thousand dollars for equity training from Portland State University professor Sally Eck. This is one of her presentations:

The neighborhood associations barely managed to preserve their funding this year, but will have to run the gauntlet again next year.

SWNI, however, fell under Jo Ann Hardesty’s axe February 25, and is defunded.

In her first major decision as the elected-in-charge of Portland’s civic life bureau, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has decided to permanently cut city funding from embattled neighborhood group Southwest Neighborhoods Inc…

“This was not a rash decision. I didn’t come in with my mind made up,” Hardesty told members. “What I did was review years of documentation, years of audits, years of non-accountability with how the dollars were utilized. … It was based on a lot of factual data that tracks a history of financial mismanagement.”

Members at the Wednesday evening Zoom video meeting did not seem shocked by the decision, quickly turning to logistical questions and thanking Hardesty for delivering the news to their faces.

One member was notably less civil in his disappointment.

Richard Freimark, who represents the Bridlemile Neighborhood Association, accused the commissioner of lying, though he did not specify about what, and said she made the decision to pull funding out of spite over the wealth of the neighborhoods in the southwest part of the city.

“Because we pay more taxes than anyone else, you’re jealous,” he said, before other members told him he was out of line.

Below is a video made by rogue board member Shannon Hiller-Webb:

3 thoughts on “Portland Dispatch March 8: Missus Hardesty’s Neighborhoods

  1. I have to wonder if businesses aren’t leaving Portland, along with white property owners sick and tired of paying for their own disemboweling.

    I did some research comparing various city budgets. Portland is currently at $8,678 per capita.

    https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2020/06/portland-passes-budget-with-millions-in-cuts-to-police-spending-but-short-of-public-demand-for-50-million-reduction.html

    The Portland .gov site is designed to hide the total budget so I had to search and finally found at oregonlive. Liberal cities tend to be high to insanely high. Washington, DC is by far and away the most profligate at $23,804 per man, woman and child, and only about 60,000 more people than Portland.

    NYC is at $10,452.

    San Diego, with a population over twice the size of Portland, has a budget of $2,838 per capita, with a slightly larger % of blacks at 6.4% to Portland’s 5.8%.

    Curiously, Minneapolis is very low at $3,450 per capita, but a couple 100K less people than Portland. Other than that there must be more money in Portland to tax.

    Seattle beats Portland at $9,167, while Detroit is way down at $3,241, probably because they don’t have enough money (i.e., not enough whites) and not enough federal money, a la DC.

    Like

  2. Another stat to compare per capita spending with is the poverty rate. (Poverty rate in the US for a single person is $12,760 in income per year, plus $4,480 for each additional person in the household. Just for world comparison Democratic Republic of the Congo’s annual per capita GNP is around $1,000. US is $62,000. Source: CIA World FactBook, https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/united-states/#economy)

    A low poverty rate but high black percent of population means there’s a lot of money to tax. DC is the ultimate example.

    Detroit shows the opposite with a poverty rate of 35% compared to DC’s 13.5% (but with a higher black percent of 78.3% to DC’s 45.4%) and radically smaller budget.

    A good source: https://data.census.gov/cedsci/profile?g=1600000US4159000

    Liked by 1 person

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