A LONG-BREWING legal fight over Right 2 Dream Too—the well-managed (but technically illegal) homeless rest area on NW 4th and Burnside—could come to an abrupt end later this month.
That's when Multnomah County Judge Karin Immergut is expected to rule on Portland's request to toss a lawsuit challenging the $25,000-plus in code fines levied against the rest area and its owners. She made the announcement after spending close to two hours listening to attorneys from both sides make their case in court last Thursday, July 11.
But a defeat in court—which some observers see as likely—might not mark the end of Right 2 Dream Too. Ironically, supporters say, it may mark a new beginning: a chance to move the site from the vacant lot it's occupied since October 2011 and find a permanent home.
Mark Kramer, the attorney representing Right 2 Dream Too in its fight against the city, says the site and its backers are talking with a property owner about taking over a downtown building. Kramer wouldn't comment when pressed for details on that site, but Street Roots has reported the group is talking with Central City Concern about Transition Projects' former home at NW 5th and Glisan.
Negotiations over that site and the logistics of taking it over are expected to sharpen in the coming days, sources say.
"We're happy to try to relocate," Ibrahim Mubarak, the group's spokesman, said outside court. "We're trying to negotiate."
But to make it work, Kramer says, the city will have to waive the fines it's levied against the rest area. That kind of political discussion is more likely to happen with the lawsuit out of the way, although he's hoping the city will make the offer even with the legal case still alive.
"It depends on whether the city is part of a deal to have Right 2 Dream Too move," he says. "[Right 2 Dream Too doesn't] want to move unless the fines are waived and canceled."
It's unclear whether the city's code enforcement bureau, the Portland Bureau of Development Services (BDS), has the discretion to waive the fine on its own or, because there's a lawsuit challenging the fines, if it needs the city council's permission first.
City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, a Right 2 Dream Too supporter, was placed atop BDS in June. She met with Kramer and others earlier this month, just before she left the country for several weeks, but Kramer says nothing substantial was discussed. Her office didn't respond to questions about Kramer's request in time for the Mercury's deadline.
"It was slightly more or less a professional courtesy," he says. "They won't seriously negotiate because they want this case dismissed."
Immergut's ruling may also give the site a chance to avail itself of a bureaucratic challenge to a city finding that the rest area is a "recreational" campsite. Right 2 Dream Too says its mission—providing dozens of people a safe place to sleep every night—is hardly "recreational."
The city argues Right 2 Dream Too should have appealed that finding to a code hearing officer before going to court; the group said it cost too much: $1,215. Deputy City Attorney Bill Manlove said in court that the hearing officer has the discretion to accept appeals filed late and potentially waive fees—and implied that would happen if the suit is tossed.
Kramer, however, worries that a political fix to the mess over Right 2 Dream Too will obscure the question at the heart of the lawsuit.
"The code issue doesn't get resolved," he says. "If another entity establishes another campground, right now it's undefined. And it's up to the city to define it and call it a transitional housing accommodation."