Alice Norris is nearing the end of her eight years as VOLUNTEER mayor of Oregon City. She met the Mercury on a blazing-hot afternoon outside a new coffee shop on Main Street. We talked with the mayor (a dill-pickle contest queen) about the economy, local rivalries, and the coming yuppie invasion.
MERCURY: Let's get to the question on everybody's mind. How much do you hate West Linn?
MAYOR ALICE NORRIS: [Sighs, then laughs] Well, we've lost to them in football every year I've been mayor. I'm hoping this year will be different. But really, in terms of economic development, we've left West Linn way in our dust. I remember when we were looking up to them.
So you guys have one of the earliest maps of San Francisco?
That's right. The original is at the Clackamas County Historical Society museum.
I heard that you refuse to give it back to San Francisco.
We'd give it back. For the right price.
How did it end up here?
Oregon City was one of the first territorial capitals in the West, and Clackamas County stretched from the Canadian border almost to the California border. Every important document had to come through the courthouse here.
Is Oregon City at the end of its days as an industrial town?
The Blue Heron paper mill is still one of the town's biggest employers, but they're shrinking, and we're focusing more and more on what we call "blue-collar creatives"—you and your age group, people who want to live somewhere that feels gritty and real. The Blue Heron site would be a great opportunity for development. It's right on the river.
What kind of economy is taking over?
We've had 13 new businesses open in the past year: a yarn shop, cafés, restaurants. This used to be a fast-food town. If you wanted to go somewhere nice for an anniversary dinner, you were out of luck.
What has been your biggest accomplishment as mayor?
Starting the revitalization of the community, through redevelopment and new businesses. We used to have an inferiority complex, and we've been through near-bankruptcy. Our population has doubled since the 1990s. Now Oregon City believes in itself.
You used to be the biggest city in Oregon. What happened?
Portland overtook us. We still haven't forgiven them.