GOOSE HOLLOW—its historic name emblazoned on former Mayor Bud Clark's old tavern—is one of Portland's most venerable neighborhoods. It's also, geographically and sociologically speaking, one of Portland's strangest.
Historic homes and scenic locales like Vista Ridge and Gander Ridge share the district with the less-polished apartments, offices, and industrial outfits that peer over the manmade canyon of Interstate 405. And people, even its own residents, sometimes forget that's the case.
"They don't know the boundaries and they don't know who the neighbors are," says Scott Schaffer, a Goose Hollow Foothills League (GHFL) board member. "It's an eclectic neighborhood, but it doesn't have as cohesive an identity as Slabtown and Nob Hill."
But a modest proposal to help connect those disparate parts—paying the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) to post simple "Goose Hollow" placards on scores of street signs—almost slipped through the bureaucracy's fingers.
Neighbors say foot-dragging and last-second cost changeups by PBOT endangered $4,480 in city grant money that needed to be spent by last December or otherwise dry up. Even then, after neighbors won a six-month reprieve until July, they say it took a tart letter addressed to Mayor Charlie Hales and PBOT's interim director, Toby Widmer, before work really got moving.
The money comes from the Office of Neighborhood Involvement. It was given to Goose Hollow by neighborhood umbrella group Neighbors West-Northwest in late 2011. Intense work on the $11,000 project, mostly funded through private donations, finally began last weekend.
"It was like dropping a depth charge," says Schaffer, the project's manager. "The letter seemed to be the only thing left to us that would get the project done."
The letter, sent in late March, took umbrage with PBOT's lack of action after more than a year of knowing about the project and months of regular emails from neighbors. It also complained about an apparent curveball thrown by the bureau this year: an insistence on charging the neighborhood its weekend overtime rate, significantly increasing the original cost estimates.
And in language meant to resonate with a bureau earning media scrutiny after a leadership change (Hales fired former Director Tom Miller upon taking office) and scathing city audits that faulted its spending on street maintenance, the letter included a velvet-wrapped threat.
"The public relations fallout from losing substantial funding because of this delay would be considerable," it read.
Schaffer says neighborhood president Leslie Johnson had a chat with Widmer soon after. A spokesman for Hales' office, Dana Haynes, says the matter never rose any higher than that. Neither Haynes nor the policy aide in charge of PBOT, Josh Alpert, were familiar with the dustup.
A PBOT spokeswoman, Cheryl Kuck, says the city had already begun some planning work before the letter was sent. She also said PBOT didn't feel like the letter accurately portrayed the situation.
"Some information may have crossed in the mail while PBOT was confirming locations and waiting for signs," she emailed in response to questions. "Neighborhoods typically install 30 to 40 signs. Goose Hollow wants to install about 200 signs, making this a much more extensive project for everyone."
Kuck also told the Mercury that PBOT prefers doing this kind of work on weekends so as not to muck-up weekday traffic. Weekend work is continuing, but the bureau has agreed to "absorb" any costs over the estimate originally provided to neighbors: $7,500.
It's unknown how much more the city will spend. The city might also wind up spending cash to replace withered street signs as part of the project. Kuck says PBOT expects to hit its budget.
"They seem confident they can do it and not lose any money," Schaffer says. "I hope they can get it done in time. And then, for the next neighborhood, they'll have a better idea of how much work it takes."