Rookie Commissioner Steve Novick has a reputation for wide-ranging interests. Sure, he's been tasked with the city's ponderous transportation challenges, ensuring 911 dispatch runs efficiently and getting Portland ready for The Big One. But he's also trying to shrink health-care costs in the region, he sends staffers to Gang Violence Task Force meetings every other week, and he's looked at sentencing reform with members of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council.
Now, Novick's rounded out his staff with a position that's unique in city hall: an "East Portland liaison." In July, the commissioner took aboard Andrea Valderrama, the former development director for a Portland immigrants' rights nonprofit, to extend the office's ears past 82nd.
"There are some people affiliated with the East Portland Action Plan who do come to city hall on a regular basis," Novick said during an interview in his office Monday. "But there are a lot of folks out there who are busy and are farther away and don’t have much time—some of them don't speak English. I thought it was particularly important to have someone whose job it is to make sure that those voices get heard here, even if they’re not coming here all the time."
It's common for city commissioners to assign staff to bureaus under their control, or to run point on important issues. Appointing a staffer to tackle an entire, sprawling region of the city, though, is rare (if not unheard of). Not that Valderrama will be pursuing matters completely divorced from Novick's stable. East Portland is notoriously underserved in terms of sidewalks, so Valderrama has been looking at that. She's also touching base with emergency management folks on a project to effectively spread information to the many East Portland residents who aren't native English speakers.
But Novick made clear he's also interested in addressing some of the wider urban planning challenges in East Portland—ensuring the area's ever-growing stock of cheap housing is better connected to places people might shop or work.
"My job is just to gather information from as many perspectives as possible and really just bridge the gaps in our policy and where we could improve," Valderrama said.
Originally from the Bay Area, she graduated from the University of Oregon in 2011. She did year-long stints as development director for the Oregon Student Association and Voz Workers' Rights Education Project before meeting Novick, who recruited her for the $50,000 position in his office.
"Basically, I have a staff that reflects what I wanted to work on when I ran," Novick said.