The money in that deal, announced last Thursday, would come from a development company led by political big wheels Homer Williams and Dike Dame.
But instead of asking the city council to bless the deal during a hearing today—an emergency move that would require unanimous support—Fritz calmly said some people might want more time to talk about it all. And, because of that consideration, a vote wouldn't come until a second hearing next week.
It wasn't until later in the hearing, after people read some dark omens into the delay, that Fritz 'fessed up. It wasn't her concern, per se. One of her colleagues asked her to pull back on the timeline at 9 this morning, she said.
And that's when Commissioner Dan Saltzman piped up with his own admission. He'd made the request. And he wasn't willing to reconsider, at least not until he had several questions answered over the coming days.
"I need another week," said Saltzman, who oversees the Portland Housing Bureau. "What I'm wrestling with, with all due respect, is that $846,000 is a lot of money. I need more framework and definition on how that money would be spent. I have questions about who would own that property. Would the city own it? Or Right 2 Dream too?... It's a lot of money in every respect except one: trying to purchase or lease property that's the most highly sought after property in the downtown core."
Then, in a comment that drew a storm of outrage from the crowd, he said he worried the gift from the developers would put pressure on the council to dip into its own resources: "I don't want a dynamic where affordable housing money is going over to Right 2 Dream Too."
Fritz, who inherited Right 2 Dream Too (and its lawsuit over code fines) from Saltzman when taking over the Bureau of Development Services last year, reacted icily. She said the ordinance appoints Mayor Charlie Hales and herself as custodians of that money, alongside Right 2 Dream Too.
"And when you said with 'all due respect,'" she said, "it doesn't sound like you trust us to do that."
(UPDATE 4:30 PM: The Portland Development Commission has approved its piece of the transaction—the actual sale of the city-owned Pearl District parking lot originally promised to Right 2 Dream Too. Hit the jump for more details.)
"Right 2 Dream Too has never taken any housing money or any tax money," she said, except for $1,000 spent on a real estate broker to help find a new site. "That's part of their model. It's a model I certainly support. It's not par to the housing bureau's model, which puts housing first, and I recognize that. But we need to be looking at a range of alternative solutions.... This is about how Right 2 Dream Too can exist legally."
Fritz also defended the notion of finding land downtown—near social services, jobs, and mass transit.
"That's also where the zoning is appropriate" for Right 2 Dream Too's emergency tent shelter model, she said. "People need to be get there to get in line to get shelter for the night, the same as other shelters."
The actual land sale, involving a city-owned lot beneath the Broadway Bridge's Lovejoy ramp, is still expected to go before the Portland Development Commission later today.
UPDATE CONTINUED: Patrick Quinton, the PDC's executive director, said his agency started looking for sites late last summer at Fritz and Hales' urging. And he confirmed, again, that his agency contemplated selling the Pearl lot after Dame and Williams inquired.
He did acknowledge, however, something interesting: That the PDC could have received more than it will, just $142,000—if it sold the lot after stripping away parking covenants limiting how it can be used. By selling it with those parking covenants intact, the PDC is letting the city and R2DToo capture a corresponding increase in the land's value. He also said the shifting around parking covenants will cost the city some money in the short term—but that he expected it would be made up as demand for parking in the neighborhood continues to increase.
Quinton defended it all as a good tradeoff—given the PDC's interest in developing NW 4th and Burnside, and seeing Right 2 Dream Too move from it's current home.
"It's an appropriate role for the PDC to put money into this," Quinton said. The board agreed quite strongly—giving him a 4-0 vote in favor.//end update
Today's council vote, meanwhile, would have accepted the money for Right 2 Dream Too and attached conditions on how it could be spent—committing the city to keeping R2DToo on its current site in Old Town until a suitable new site is found, and helping R2DToo find that new site.
Before the bustle over Saltzman's concerns erupted, the council agreed to make one other change: It added the word "collaboratively" to language codifying the city's promise to work with Right 2 Dream Too on the site search.
"We've all decided we would like to move forward," said Trillium Shannon, an R2DToo board member. "We would like to build trust. The trust isn't there yet. But we're taking a leap of faith with this ordinance."
Stripping the emergency status from the ordinance means it can pass by a simple three-vote majority next week, with the tradeoff that it would take effect in 30 days instead of immediately.
Hales said he thought it was "reasonable" to proceed today, but that Saltzman's questions also were "reasonable." He promised to provide what answers he could before next week's vote.
After the hearing, in his office, Saltzman told me it's still possible he'll vote yes. But he was uncertain. The idea that money could be used for Right 2 Dream Too's operating costs gave him pause, he says. And the notion that the money might get them only partly into a site downtown, putting pressure to break from precedent and spend more city money, he says, also is gnawing at him.
"I'm concerned we may be opening the door by getting them halfway there," he says.
He was gratified to hear that Right 2 Dream Too is an Oregon-sanctioned nonprofit that's maybe weeks from receiving the same status from the Internal Revenue Service. That was a question answered during testimony today.
But he also will insist on "clarity" about the ownership structure. His lightly stated preference, he says, is for the city to own any new site and give it to Right 2 Dream Too for three years at a time, pending the terms of a negotiated "use" agreement.
He gets that the money offered isn't technically city money. It wouldn't be on the table absent the settlement over Right 2 Dream Too. But he says he felt compelled to treat it that way since it was coming before council as if it were city money. It's not personal, he says, admitting that his own feelings about Right 2 Dream Too have actually warmed considerably over the past two-plus years.
It was under Saltzman that the site was fined more than $20,000 after code inspectors decided it was an illegal recreational campground—a harsh stance complicated by Right 2 Dream Too's current landlords at NW 4th and Burnside. One of those landlords, Michael Wright, was seen by many in city hall as an antagonist.
"I've developed a begrudging respect for Right 2 Dream Too and [prominent co-founder] Ibrahim Mubarak, I have to say," Saltzman said. "They've done a pretty good job."