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Friday, September 7, 2012

PBA Asks Nolan, Fritz Whether "Transients" Should Be "Allowed" on Public Sidewalks

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Fri, Sep 7, 2012 at 3:59 PM

Earlier today, the Portland Business Alliance released its first candidate questionnaire for this fall's runoff election, a 15-question survey given out to Mary Nolan and Amanda Fritz earlier this summer. The whole thing, posted online by the PBA, is worth a read. But here's my impression: Nolan comes off a little better than Fritz, an incumbent who swore off big donations despite Nolan's fundraising prowess.

In the first question, on whether "job creation" should be a top city priority, Fritz flatly says "No," before launching into a nuanced explanation of why. Her argument is that focusing on basic municipal services is more important, even though she also does still support, she says, taking step to attract and retain new businesses. It's not terrible, if anyone bothers to read the rest of what she said. The problem is they may not. And that her "no" will be way too tempting of a target for a Nolan attack ad this fall. Nolan's response doesn't allow for such parsing. Hers was just "Yes."

Fritz also took a dig at Nolan, in a question on public employee benefits, noting that "it is not surprising to me that the Police and Fire Unions are supporting my opponent." She hasn't done much of that before, usually preferring to talk about her own record exclusively. Interestingly, when asked later about public safety and whether candidates would commit to not laying off cops, it was Nolan, the police union's chosen candidate, who actually had the less-firm response.

I agree that public safety is a top priority for City residents and businesses alike, and I would like to commit without reservation to maintaining current sworn capacity. But if General Fund resources continue to lose buying power due to constitutional limits or pressure for tax or fee reductions, that objective may not be achievable. CHIERS and the Service Coordination Team are vitally important programs for which I support continuing funding.

Nolan's response is interesting for another reason. It's a tartly sly way of putting the PBA on notice that, at the same time as the group keeps asking for tax and fee cuts, they might want to also consider what kinds of things those taxes and fees pay for. Things like cops.

My most favorite part of the whole survey was the PBA's question on downtown livability. It's okay for clean, housed people with small dogs and bags of belongings (go shopping!) to enjoy a public sidewalk. It's not okay, however, if those same clean people with dogs and bags are unhoused.

Portland has one of the best downtowns in the nation, but we constantly hear from local residents and visitors who find our downtown streets unwelcoming because of the transients who are allowed to sit on sidewalks, frequently with their dogs and belongings, sometimes engaging in aggressive panhandling. How will you address this persistent livability issue? Would you support a stronger sit-lie ordinance? And do you support maintaining - and enforcing - the city's prohibition against camping?

Sticking the word "sometimes" before "aggressive panhandling" is telling. Even if a "transient" is acting perfectly politely and decently and privately, the PBA would still rather they weren't "allowed" to sit on the public right of way.

Both Fritz and Nolan defend the current sidewalk plan that, nominally, "allows" homeless people to be on the street. Fritz oversees that plan, in fact. Nolan's response comes uncomfortably close to endorsing sweeps of low-impact camps, which the city mostly ignores right now. However, she also got in a good line about making sure the city has money for an even better answer to having cops and private security harass the homeless: Paying for safety net programs—hey, look, more taxes and fees!—that take care of people before they attract the attention of those in uniform.

According to the O, which focused on other issues in their writeup this morning, neither candidate has the PBA's endorsement yet.

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