Still Dreaming 

Despite Snag, Talks for Moving Old Town Homeless Rest Area Push On

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DESPITE LAST WEEK'S 11th-hour snag in legal wrangling—and new protests from a handful of surprised Pearl District neighbors—a city-brokered deal to move Old Town's homeless rest area, Right 2 Dream Too, could emerge as soon as this week, sources tell the Mercury.

The Mercury reported on the outlines of that deal, pushed by Commissioner Amanda Fritz, last week ["Under the Bridge?" News, Aug 28].

Right 2 Dream Too would move from NW 4th and Burnside to a portion of a parking lot beneath the Broadway Bridge's Lovejoy ramp. A lawsuit filed against the city by the group and its current landlords would be dropped. And more than $20,000 in code enforcement fines—the city declared the site an illegal "recreational" campground soon after it opened in October 2011—would be waived.

"Progress is being made," Fritz told the Mercury late Friday, August 30, in what she termed an "official statement" flowing from a meeting between her office, the city attorney's office, Right 2 Dream Too's board members, and Mark Kramer, the attorney representing both Right 2 Dream Too and its current landlords.

"We hope to have a settlement agreement next week," she said.

Another source close to the talks told the Mercury early Tuesday, September 3, that a deal could be in place as soon as that day or the next. No deal was in place as of press time.

Because the Portland Development Commission controls the new site, the proposed deal also needs Mayor Charlie Hales' approval. Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, said the mayor supports a relocation deal but hadn't been briefed as of press time.

"He's anxious to find out how it's gone," says Haynes.

Of course, this also wouldn't be the first time hopes were high—only to fade away.

The tentative agreement nearly fell apart last Tuesday, August 27, after the site's current landlord, Michael Wright, balked at the city's insistence he agree not to host another group of homeless campers.

Kramer said Wright wanted the city to remain "silent" on what he can or can't do with his property—with the understanding that if Wright did try hosting more campers, the city could come back with code inspectors and levy more fines and start the legal process all over again.

That "silence" was one of three options Kramer presented the city. Wright had asked the city to consider buying his land. He also sought permission to install a food cart pod.

Fritz said she was willing to strip language banning camping from the agreement, while still insisting that whatever came next would comply with current city codes, rules, and laws. The city's view was that language would still rule out knowingly hosting campers or food carts on the lot. The deal went sideways when Wright realized that his interpretation of that clause was different from the city's.

It was unclear as of press time how the two sides resolved that impasse. The city and Fritz would clearly be loath to see another rest area spring up on Wright's vacant land after the expense and political effort involved in moving Right 2 Dream Too. But a deal also couldn't go through without Wright's buy-in. He's a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit against the city and organizers have agreed to hold him harmless for any code fines that have accrued. The city won't waive those fines if it can't agree with Wright on the future of his current land.

The proposed deal has been giving Fritz mild heartburn for another reason. The Pearl District Neighborhood Association, outraged by the closed-door talks surrounding the plan and concerns about legal camping, began a letter-writing campaign last week accusing the city of violating "our trust and its own integrity."

The city is allowed, under law, two "transitional housing" campgrounds. Right 2 Dream Too would join Dignity Village on that list.

Some neighbors lashed out directly at Fritz, suggesting they'd work against her re-election in 2016. Fritz, in a letter back to one of those neighbors, obtained by the Mercury, reminded foes that Right 2 Dream Too has been a model neighbor in Old Town. She also reminded them about her promise last year not to seek office again.

"I'm not running for anything ever again, just so you know," she wrote. "I act to do what I believe is right and in the long-term public good, which is not always what is popular with voters."

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