WELL, THAT DIDN'T take long. Three days after Commissioner Amanda Fritz announced a deal moving homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too into a remote corner of the Pearl, residents—already vocal with disdain over the plan—officially decided to put their money where their mouths were.
On Thursday, September 12—at a meeting sources describe as fairly heated and sometimes ugly—the Pearl District Neighborhood Association (PDNA) approved spending up to $10,000 of its savings on a potential legal challenge.
The PDNA had already begun consulting with a land-use attorney, as reported by the Mercury, on whether the relocation was legal. But the vote was the strongest signal yet that neighbors—despite Fritz's olive branch of “public process”—don't intend to go along quietly. And it's not just neighbors. Prominent Pearl developers Homer Williams and Dike Dame—major campaign donors for Mayor Charlie Hales—have also loaned their considerable might to the cause.
To better understand where neighbors are coming from, the Mercury sat down with PDNA President Patricia Gardner.
MERCURY: What's your biggest concern about the Right 2 Dream Too relocation?
PATRICIA GARDNER: I can only pick one? City council is playing by a different standard. That's it, at its simplest level. If a private citizen wanted to do something in this neighborhood, they would have to go through a lot of process. Because we are in a design review zone, they would have to come before the neighborhood. Either the rules exist for all of us or they exist for none of us.
Would Amanda Fritz be talking about "public process" if neighbors hadn't started writing letters?
I don't think so. Even if she was, it was going to be public process after a fait accompli. I also think there's a conversation that we have not had as a city. "Okay, smart people of Portland, how do you want to solve homelessness?" [The Right 2 Dream Too relocation] feels like the easy way. The hard way is to come up with a long-term, innovative solution.
But Right 2 Dream Too would argue it is innovative: It's low-cost, low-impact, self-managed—and addressing an immediate crisis on the streets.
It's going to start raining. So I said, "Okay, Commissioner Fritz. Why don't you put them into a building?" It could still be innovative, but they can have a real roof over their head.
Have you had any more conversations with Commissioner Fritz?
We reached out to her to see if she wanted to come to our board meeting last night. She was out of town. She threw out that if we want, we can have a special meeting that she can attend.
Are you talking to other commissioners?
I had called the mayor's office trying to figure out what's going on. Everybody was saying, "Just talk to Amanda." We've sent letters to the commissioners but haven't heard anything back.
The letter from attorney Christe White arguing that there's no legal way to move Right 2 Dream Too—was that something that she sent in tandem with the neighborhood association?
She has been investigating the options. There is a consortium of people who are kind of behind it right now. Williams & Dame, Hoyt Street, and then there's a group of business folks.
Having Homer Williams and Dike Dame on board—are you getting the ear of city hall?
They've been involved since the beginning. It doesn't seem to have helped so far. This feels like a freight train.
Commissioner Fritz insists the city attorney wouldn't have let her settle with Right 2 Dream Too if they didn't think this could happen in 30 days and legally. Why does her assessment veer so dramatically from that of the neighbors?
I have no idea. Maybe it's the emergency housing thing. [In which the council would invoke emergency powers to establish temporary housing.] That's not my understanding of how it works. But I don't know. We don't know what they're doing. We're not sure what their timeline is. We don't know if it's going to council. We don't know anything.
Commissioner Fritz has indicated that the city's agreement with Right 2 Dream Too wouldn't come for a formal council vote.
I want to see some kind of vote. I pity people who have to build in this city. It's a really painful, painful process. The cynic in me says the reason they're avoiding all votes and commission hearings is so they don't open themselves up for lawsuits, and it's ridiculous.
Have neighbors visited Right 2 Dream Too, to check on their operation?
We have not yet. Yes, there's an agreement [between the site and city], but we don't know what the approval process is. That's a whole other conversation.
Would you invite Right 2 Dream Too to the association meetings?
To be honest, I haven't thought it through.
Some of the concerns I've heard have little to do with process and everything to do with crime and quality of life. The mere fact that it's a spot for the homeless clearly has some people upset.
It's very hard to have tents next to buildings. We've got the Richard L. Harris Building, which is transition housing, in our neighborhood, which is fine. We've been big supporters of the Bud Clark Commons. It comes down to buildings vs. tents. If we've decided that we're embracing a Bedouin lifestyle, that's one thing, but the codes aren't written that way.
Are you saying there's a little bit of fear?
It's the form more than the substance. We've got clinics in our neighborhood. We are on the record as saying: "Go for it." We're the ones who got the family housing. We're the ones who really pushed hard to get low-income family housing. Nobody else in the city did that. We did that.
The residents at Station Place [a senior community near the city's chosen site] have been especially vocal about safety concerns and not bringing in more homeless people.
We've heard a lot from them. That's, again, back to the word "irony." That is one of our low-income buildings. They are really worried about it. They are worried about safety. They also feel like they're being used by Amanda. My understanding is she reached out to them, and that she's trying to get a good-neighbor agreement with them and nobody else.
Old Town neighbors say they've come to appreciate Right 2 Dream Too.
Depends on whom you talk to.
I recall, three years ago, some similarly harsh concerns about the homeless over the Portland Loo at Jamison Square.
And in all fairness to those residents, a number of them have come up to me afterward and said, "I'm sorry. It has been no problem, you were right." Change is hard, unfamiliar things are hard, and that's human nature. We don't deal well with change.
But the Loo was a well-planned idea. This [relocation] is by default. We get 30 inches of rain in five months. So we're going move this facility off of Burnside, so nobody can see it, put them under a bridge, where we know the feral cats live, where the pigeons live. There are poky things on every structure underneath there because that's like pigeon heaven. Under a bridge that is barely seismically upgraded. With no running water and no electricity. And we're going to say that's good enough?
Is there any chance neighbors might change their minds, just like with the Loo?
You're confusing beginning and ending. Right now we're just like: "Really? That's how you're going do this?" Fundamentally if one commissioner can say, "This is how it is," what's the point of democracy? The beginning, right now, is really that big. When did I join a dictatorship?
If the city gave it more time, would you come to the table?
If you've been on record saying, "We think buildings are important, we think all incomes are important," it's really hard to embrace tents. And as someone who goes camping a lot—and I have camped in the rain; it's miserable—there's got to be a better way. It feels lazy.
So talking about a building instead of a lot with tents would somehow be an easier conversation?
MUCH easier conversation. We understand that. That's what the code is written for.