IT WAS NEVER a question whether Central Eastside neighbors would look to stymie Right 2 Dream Too's (R2DToo) attempts to move in. The only variable was how.
And last Thursday, a procession of business owners, real estate developers, and neighborhood representatives answered in booming fashion.
Over the course of a four-hour hearing, they trotted out musty arguments that it's not humane to allow people to sleep in tents, as they do at R2DToo—that the city, as the Portland Business Alliance has begun chanting lately, "can do better."
And there were professed concerns for the safety of anyone who stays at the self-managed homeless rest area if it moves to the proposed city-owned lot—at SE 3rd and Harrison, near the east end of the Tilikum Crossing. Representatives from an adjacent business, East Side Plating, repeatedly raised the specter of perilous spills or explosions in a facility where they spend much of their week.
Mostly there was outrage that an unused industrial plot was being prepped to host a homeless encampment for a decade—the proposed timeline in an agreement between the city and R2DToo. (This last argument has some logic, given the very convenient rationale the city's employed to square the rest area's move with its zoning code.)
What foes of R2DToo's potential relocation never seemed to summon up was a full picture. A nod, for instance, that officials have been working to find R2DToo a reasonable home for years, since the last round of NIMBYism scuttled a deal to keep the camp close to downtown. Or a concession that the rest area will be pushed from its current site under the Chinatown Gate in October regardless of what happens with the Central Eastside plot, and that the city's growing homeless population would be much worse off without it.
That sort of tunnel vision is a mainstay in city hall, which fills up with naysayers at the slightest whisper of changes to parking policy, or density discussions or—more and more lately—decisions on homelessness. Commissioners have seen this before, in other words, and it seemed likely last week that a majority of council would essentially thank the opponents for their perspective, add a clause or two to address some concerns, and finally begin to move R2DToo.
Then it didn't happen.
As Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz were making final tweaks to a formal resolution, Commissioner Steve Novick voiced reservations. "I would feel more comfortable if we waited on a vote," he said. "There are some conversations I would like to have with staff."
What conversations? Novick kept mum. With what staff? He wouldn't say.
But he's not alone. Commissioner Nick Fish has raised concerns about the city's agreement with R2DToo, and dodged after the hearing when asked how he'd vote. Commissioner Dan Saltzman clearly opposes putting housing money into the camp (which isn't part of the plan), and seemed to have lingering uncertainty. That's a majority of council, if you're keeping track.
The question of whether to move R2DToo comes before commissioners afresh at 2 pm on Wednesday, February 24.
This should be interesting.