RIGHT ABOUT NOW, the Pearl neighbors and developers working to renegotiate a better relocation deal for homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too are getting a good lesson on why, for months, that's been much easier said than done.
The talks—between R2DToo and a group led by Pearl founding father Homer Williams—have apparently been productive, depending on who's describing them. But they've also been difficult enough that a soft deadline for a deal—this Wednesday, October 16—was pulled back the morning before.
That somewhat expected news came out of Commissioner Amanda Fritz's office early Tuesday, October 15.
She still likes the site she's chosen—a parking lot beneath the Lovejoy ramp of the Broadway Bridge—unconvinced by the outcry from residents and business owners who insist their objections are mostly driven by the zoning code.
But in a statement on Tuesday, Fritz tartly agreed to hold off, "as a courtesy" to Mayor Charlie Hales, who wants to give those same opponents more time to see through a promise to find a location that everyone can live with.
"They haven't put anything reasonable on the table in two weeks," she told me later Tuesday. "That's frustrating."
This is a process both Fritz and Hales ought to know well. As I wrote last week, the Lovejoy site was the fourth location considered by Fritz—the other three all had deal-killing flaws. And Hales, before Fritz took over the Portland Bureau of Development Services, had tried to find the rest area a building. That also didn't work out.
Fritz said the offers so far have involved buildings in industrial areas—where she says the city's zoning code doesn't allow shelters—an outdoor spot far from downtown and its cluster of social services providers, and a building that's already been rented.
"We're not going to do anything that isn't in compliance with the zoning code," she says.
Hales' office confirmed Fritz had pulled back at the mayor's request—all but admitting the mayor is ready to take the reins from Fritz (conveniently timed, I might add, since he can now play the role of hero).
But unlike Fritz, Hales' office characterized the talks as productive, saying the office was "astounded" at the "amazing" progress thus far.
Spokeswoman KC Cowan even revealed something that Fritz acknowledged was "encouraging."
While Williams and his group remain focused on finding a building where R2DToo can move its many tents from NW 4th and Burnside, they now understand that any building should also come with some outdoor space. So R2DToo doesn't have to give up tents altogether.
Every day, R2DToo helps 50 or so people get a safe night's sleep, and organizers worry that some of the people they help will stay away without the intermediate step of an outdoor bed.
That would be a powerful concession, if serious. But that's also a tricky combination to make work under the zoning code.
And what of the 30-day deadline later this month to cinch a deal—dictated by a settlement among the city, R2DToo, and current landlord Michael Wright?
Cowan says Williams was planning to work that out with Wright, and that R2DToo should be able to stay a bit longer. Fritz, who knows better, doesn't think it'll be so easy. Wright wants the city to buy his land. This is a good chance to press his case.
"We still have a valid promise," Fritz says.
Wright hit the same note when we spoke: "The settlement is basically a contract. I don't know how it's going to play out."