THERE HAS BEEN no rest for the weary in Mayor Sam Adams' office this fall—with the mayor, and his dwindling cadre of staffers, still scrambling to push a whole host of contentious issues across the finish line before their impending exit from city hall next year.
Adams, on his third chief of staff this year and fourth since 2011, has been scaring up cash to keep from leaving Mayor-elect Charlie Hales with a crippling budget deficit. He spent weeks wrangling what became unanimous votes on federal police reforms and an expansion of the city's landmark ban on plastic bags.
His office on Tuesday, November 20, announced a long-awaited compromise on the redevelopment of the Rose Quarter and Veterans Memorial Coliseum. And the mayor remains committed to—and, sources say, has been deep into closed-door horse-trading to secure—a pay-for-parking plan for the posh environs of NW 23rd.
But reality is beginning to bear down. Adams—struggling against the inertia of the exhaustive, process-heavy political culture he's championed, while at the same time navigating a city council schedule pinched by holiday vacations—is running out of time.
And that means one of his biggest white whales—the Port of Portland's decades-old dream of swallowing West Hayden Island—is on the verge of slipping away.
Andre Baugh, the chairman of the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission, told me on Monday, November 19, that there's only the slimmest of chances his board will finish its work vetting the plan in time for a 2012 council vote. The commission—an important element of the Portland Plan that Adams also muscled through this year—is charged with making land-use recommendations to the city council.
"I don't know that we can get all the best information in front of us to make a decision before the end of the year," Baugh says. "It's not impossible. But it wouldn't be a good step in my view. It's very tight."
Baugh's comments came after an hours-long planning commission hearing last Thursday, November 15, that brought out so many people—many of them viscerally opposed to the deal—that the commission was compelled to hold another session, scheduled for November 27.
Baugh and other commissioners say they want to make sure they hear from everyone before voting. They're also waiting for a final report from a special advisory committee also working on the annexation issue—specifically on how to offset the environmental pain that would come from the despoilment of one of Portland's last great tracts of pure wilderness.
"We'll need time to digest that," Baugh says.
Adams already stepped into the process this month by brokering a last-minute deal with the Port of Portland that would pour millions into environmental mitigation. He told me on Monday, November 19, that he'd release another draft of that agreement this Wednesday, November 21. Later Monday, Adams shared his optimistic timeline for a vote with the Oregonian.
Environmentalists like the Audubon Society's Bob Sallinger have long been urging Adams to slow down and allow for more scrutiny. And so has Mayor-elect Hales.
Adams promises to respect the public process he helped enshrine. And he says there's never been a land-use vote in Portland backed by this much information. But he also allows that it might not happen under his watch, despite his prodding.
"It's worth the investment," he says. "Either way, the city council is going to make the decision."