JESUS, but 2014 went by fast. It was a Year of the Horse that flew breezily past like an angry palomino.
And it might seem, right now, like nothing happened in that creamy blur. But everything happened.
Here are the stories from 2014—some big, some tiny—that we demand you address one last time. Confront the 2014 that was, Portland. Stare down that snorting palomino and be done with it.
Tiny Houses, Large Hurdles: Portland's almost always the subject of one national blog or another, for a predictable list of qualities that mostly involve genital-shaped doughnuts, flannel shirts, sour coffee, hops, white people, and Fred Armisen. Which basically means it was impossible for the hordes out East not to trump up a legitimately interesting story first reported by your very own Mercury. Back in August, Mayor Charlie Hales' office announced its embrace of so-called "tiny houses"—the epitome of Portland at its most twee and sustainable—as a potential solution to the city's shortage of affordable housing. Hales' office wanted to move fast, talking about setting up a "micro community" pilot project within a year. But that's easier said than done, thanks to the challenge of finding adequate land without riling up NIMBY neighbors. Hales' office says it's quietly narrowed its list of sites and is coming close to a proposal focused on homeless families, maybe in partnership with Portland Public Schools.
Steve Novick vs. the World: No one in Portland City Hall cracks jokes and throws rhetorical jabs (in public) like Commissioner Steve Novick. We probably could've filled most of this article with the pointier things Novick's said over the course of the year. Instead, we've included a few of our favorite Novick lines from 2014—and their intended targets. The Oregonian: "You want to question our commitment to jobs? Seriously? The paper that specializes in firing people—good people like Ryan White and Scott Learn—wants to talk about jobs?"
The police bureau's drugs and vice division: "It is my understanding that the division does not focus on open-air drug markets that are a threat to community livability, but on pursuing 'mid- and high-level drug dealers.' In other words, the division is engaged in the failed national 40-year effort to interrupt the supply of drugs."
A legal deal scrubbing discipline over Captain Mark Kruger's Nazi Germany shrine: It's "an insult to anyone of Jewish or Russian or Polish descent."
Potential street fee opponents: "If the voters are really mad at [Mayor Charlie Hales and me], we're both up for re-election in 2016. They can throw us out."
The Portland Business Alliance (also fighting the street fee): "The Portland Business Alliance and its allies would rather burn the city to the ground than adopt anything remotely resembling an income tax."
P Is for Pulitzer: Because life is funny, a few months after Novick went all Richard Sherman on the Oregonian's editorial board, calling it the shrill punching arm of a "sorry Orange County right-wing publisher" out of step with Portland values, that very same team of writers won journalism's highest award. As in, a Pulitzer Prize. And it was for a series of editorials about a subject near and dear to conservative hearts: pension reform.
Just Get Your Own, Already: In the dewy-eyed salad days of early 2013, bike share's future seemed so bright in Portland. City officials had succeeded in landing $2 million in seed money for a system, and had just inked a deal with a Portland-based company that had succeeded (or would succeed) in landing bike share in some of the country's biggest cities. We were on our way! Now it's almost two years later, and our eyes could not be more devoid of dew. Alta Bicycle Share, that Portland company, has moved to New York, the manufacturers of the bike share system we'd planned to buy went bankrupt, and the city has had zero luck finding a dime of sponsorship money. Officials say they're shooting to launch a system in 2015. Don't count on it.
An Island Left Afloat: For the first time in recent memory, a new year will dawn without any realistic chance that the Port of Portland might plop a marine terminal and related roads onto West Hayden Island, one of the region's last large wilderness redoubts. Last January, Port officials did some math and decided complying with the city's conditions for building on the land—basically, spending millions to offset inevitable environmental damage—would keep the project from penciling out. Not that the matter is entirely solved. Drafts of the city's new Comprehensive Plan have still considered the island a home for future industry, leading to major pushback this fall from environmental groups and neighbors who'd be happy to finally take a rest.
Our Original Locavores: Californians and New York Times reporters aren't the only mammals drawn to Portland's bustling food scene. This summer, the city saw a disconcerting amount of activity from Oregon's top predators—and at least one unfortunate housecat paid the price. The intrigue started in mid-June, when officials tranquilized a young black bear that was treed in Northeast Portland's Concordia neighborhood and shipped it out of town. Then, in late June, the cougar calls started coming in. People were spotting the highly territorial cats in Oregon City and Gresham. Some folks reported being stalked. One woman found her cat's head and paw. It wasn't until Independence Day that authorities caught up with a cougar in an East Portland cedar tree. Cougars aren't the same as bears in the state's eyes. Once captured, the East Portland cat had to die, officials said. It's been relatively quiet since. Too quiet.
The Year in Police Shootings: As of press time, it's been almost four months since Portland police officers last shot at someone. On Labor Day, DeNorris McClendon, 27, wandered onto Interstate 84 while deep in a mental health crisis and was shot by Officer Michael Honl, allegedly after pointing a replica handgun. McClendon survived the shooting—much as he survived a traumatic Tasering at the hands of Portland police when he was 15. In June, Officer Robert Brown shot and killed Nicholas Davis, a homeless man with a history of mental illness, after tripping during a scuffle along the Springwater Corridor Trail. Paul Ropp was injured after he shot and wounded Officer Jeffrey Dorn during a chase in April, also killing Dorn's police dog, Mick; Ropp was recently sentenced to 30 years in prison. In March, Officer John Romero killed Kelly Swoboda, a kidnapping suspect accused of tailing students near Wilson High School, after a shootout in which Romero's hand was grazed.
Proof That Cats Are Buttholes: A large cat named Lux terrorized his humans so badly—swatting at a baby and then chasing the child's parents into their bedroom—they had to call 911 for relief. That chilling 911 call from March went viral—and so did Lux's story. He briefly became the pet project of a reality TV cat whisperer, on his way to a foster home where intensive medication and snuggles would help him settle down. It wasn't to be. Lux had been diagnosed with a rare feline disease that left him prone to sudden, violent outbursts, the Oregonian reported, and his foster family quickly found themselves overwhelmed by the amount of care Lux required. So they sent him to live in a cat hospital in June. If he's been euthanized since then, no one's reported it.
P Is for... Pee: There was one other time this year when the nation's eyes—the world's even!—fell upon Portland with something akin to awe. In April, a teenager named Dallas Swonger was caught on surveillance camera outside Mount Tabor's Reservoir 5 doing something that looked suspiciously like taking a leak directly into the city's drinking water. "When you see the video, he's leaning because he has to get his little wee-wee right up to the iron bars," David Shaff, director of the city's water bureau, told the Oregonian. "There's really no doubt what he's doing." Soon after, just in case, Portland officials made the call to dump 38 million gallons of Bull Run water—possibly already tainted by dead animals and bird droppings and whatever else floats in an open-air reservoir. Which is about when seemingly every major news site on earth got interested and decided to mock our churlish sensibilities when it came to our water. There was, of course, at least one hitch: Swonger, in an interview with Vocativ, said he merely whizzed on the wall, not in the water. "It's no fuckin' joke, dude," he told Vocativ. "I don't want people thinkin' that Dallas is a dumbass because he pissed in the fuckin' water. In our drinking water. Yeah, that's fucking awesome."
We Can Make Sensible Water Decisions, Too: The best collective decision we as Portlanders made this year was not to engage in an East-versus-West civil war involving armed combat on the bridges. The second best decision was to roundly reject a new Portland Public Water District being pushed by some of the city's biggest industrial concerns in May's election. The district would have taken Portland's sewer and water systems away from city council, and put them in the hands of a new board. No one knew who'd actually qualify to serve on that board (the rules were tough to parse) or who would pay attention to it. And it was pretty clear that the new water/sewer overlords would have little ability to reduce our rates—the very reason the thing was suggested in the first place. Anyway, you trounced it. Nice work.
Fingers Folded, Eyes Closed: Every five years, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman visits the city's various editorial boards, making the case voters should re-approve one of his signature efforts: the Portland Children's Levy. With a small slice of your property taxes, the levy funds oodles of programs for the city's least-fortunate kids. And it always passes easily. Given his support for our tykes, it's no surprise Saltzman has traditionally won the favor of Portland's teachers' union. But that changed in the commissioner's easy path to re-election this year. In an unexpected turn, the political wing of the Portland Association of Teachers declined to make a call in Saltzman's race, even as it endorsed in others. Sources said that was because of a particularly tone-deaf answer the commissioner had given in an interview with union reps. What, they wanted to know, had Saltzman done to help avert the very real possibility of a teachers' strike earlier in the year? Saltzman's answer: "I prayed."
Give Him a Hand: Police Chief Mike Reese, after four-plus years, will enjoy the rare honor of stepping down next month—an official, proper retirement—without having been sacked by an anxious police commissioner or undone by a scandal of his own making. Not that Reese's tenure hasn't been without blemishes, mostly among the bureau's upper management. Last year, his best friend quit over leaked text messages mocking Captain Mark Kruger for his Nazi Germany shrine in a city park. This year, Reese and Mayor Charlie Hales approved a shocking legal settlement wiping away Kruger's discipline for that shrine—a controversial deal that probably wouldn't have been possible if those text messages hadn't ever been sent. But the weirdest thing to come out of the cop shop this year were allegations in a labor complaint filed by Lieutenant Rachel Andrew, first reported by the Mercury. According to Andrew's complaint, Reese humiliated her during a 2012 discipline hearing by asking her—twice—to "demonstrate how a male masturbates." Andrew also filed a $300,000 federal suit over related claims. Which meant Reese, when asked about the accusations, merely said "no comment."
An End to Child Arrests: Latoya Harris didn't know what would happen when she got up to speak near the end of April's meeting of the Citizen Review Committee—an independent, volunteer panel charged with deciding appeals in police misconduct cases and making recommendations to the cops on policy changes. Harris wound up changing the way the city's police officers are trained to treat small children. About a year before Harris spoke, her nine-year-old daughter had been taken into custody by two cops working the city's New Columbia detail. They were investigating a fight among children that had happened a few days earlier, and they'd decided the girl wasn't as forthcoming as they would have liked. So they arrested her. They handcuffed her. They drove her downtown in their police car and made her wait for her mother to catch up to her. The girl was still wearing her bathing suit, after a day playing outside. The Mercury broke the news about the girl's arrest, almost immediately prompting defense attorneys and other advocates in town to press the city for policy changes. A month later, police officials promised to figure out what those changes might be. By late summer, they'd done that work, agreeing to limit arrests of children younger than 12 to only the most extreme circumstances.
Thinning ICE: The federal "Secure Communities" program has long been a bane for immigrants' rights activists. In a bit of shadowy legal scheming, it enabled US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to request suspected undocumented immigrants be held in jail for 48 hours beyond when they would otherwise have been released—no warrants, just a request. That changed rapidly in Oregon this year, thanks to an April ruling from local US Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart. Stewart went further than other courts by finding that, no, jails don't have to hold people just because ICE asks. In fact, she said, it's a violation of people's rights to keep them without probable cause. Counties around the state immediately began adjusting their policies.
Still Dreaming, Still at Home: Right 2 Dream Too, Old Town's self-managed rest area for the homeless, marked its third full year at NW 4th and Burnside this October. It's probably going to be there next October, too. In February, the rest area received nearly $900,000 as part of a complicated land deal between the city and Pearl District developers who were desperately fighting a plan to move the rest area beneath a Broadway Bridge off-ramp. That money's in the city's hands while organizers look for a new home to spend it on. But that search has proven more complicated than some backers thought, in part because of NIMBYism, but also because of the high price of land in the areas of Portland close to downtown's hub of social services. In June, the city's urban renewal agency offered R2DToo's landlord $1.5 million—giving him 30 months to move the rest area or give up some of that cash.
Let's Be Real, It's Our Worst Bridge: We knew the Morrison Bridge had problems—2014 just showed us how deep they went. The troubles for Portland's busiest non-highway bridge began in 2012, shortly after the county fitted it with a semi-experimental, lightweight polymer surface. Right away, screws began loosening on the deck. Panels began to shift and crack. Before long, the county was suing various suppliers and contractors involved in the project. For a time, officials insisted they could fix the deck, but it turned out that wasn't true. In July, the county announced it was going to have to do the whole job over. So what sort of deck are they considering as a replacement? Several, but that same semi-experimental polymer seems an early frontrunner. Cross your fingers!
A Dark Day in East County: It has happened, reliably and with less and less ability to shock, all over the country. And in 2014, it happened in the Portland area. On the morning of June 10, a 15-year-old freshman at Troutdale's Reynolds High School got onto a bus carrying a guitar case loaded with weaponry from his home. Once at school, he went into the locker room, armed himself with an AR-15 rifle, and shot the first people he saw. A 14-year-old classmate named Emilio Hoffman died. A teacher named Todd Rispler was injured, but ran to warn administrators to lock the school down. When cops arrived on scene, the shooter retreated into a restroom and killed himself.
We Simply Can't Recall: As previously noted, Commissioner Steve Novick announced the first iteration of a fluid, fast-changing, and always controversial street fee by telling reporters that if voters didn't like it, "they can throw us out." Ray Horton tried to take him up on it. Less than two months after Novick's challenge, the retiree and Southeast Portland resident had launched a recall campaign against the commissioner and Mayor Charlie Hales. For a second, it looked like it might have legs. Novick even showed up to one of the recall group's meetings to explain himself and his stance. But the effort ultimately fell with a thud, failing to collect the necessary signatures, and netting less than $750 in contributions. The street fee debate, meanwhile, rages.
Rice-Throwing Opportunities—Multiplied: A decade ago, Oregonians made a mistake, inserting a provision in the state's constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman. It led to a lot of heartache, needless difficulties, and indignities for same-sex couples across the state. Then 2014 swooped in and righted that wrong. On May 19, US District Court Judge Michael McShane cast down the same-sex marriage ban, following a wave of similar legal opinion across the country. It was an expected decision—in February, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum had said she wouldn't even defend the ban in court—but joyous nonetheless. And more than six months later? The sky's still up there.
Too Many Fond Farewells: We get it—cities grow and change, and commercial enterprises have been ritualistically birthed and killed in this part of the world since Portland was known only as "The Clearing." Still, 2014 felt somehow different. This year marked the passing of beloved Portland institutions like the Matador and Produce Row Café. Slabtown's gone, and if you're reading this on New Year's Day or later, you just missed the passing of the venerable strip dive Magic Garden. This, by the way, is just a sampling of damned decent spots our city bid farewell to in 2014. Here's hoping 2015 brings more value than it bleeds.