WAITING TO TAKE the lectern in a Portland City Hall conference room, wearing a slight smile for the dozens of activists and reporters who'd gathered at her request, Commissioner Amanda Fritz was unusually ebullient.
She held off until precisely 1:30 pm on Monday, September 9—only then announcing what seemed like a happy ending after weeks of negotiations over the future of Old Town homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too ["Still Dreaming," News, Sept 4].
Less than an hour before, R2DToo members had triumphantly signed papers agreeing to drop a lawsuit challenging some $20,000 in code violation fines. In exchange, Fritz would waive those fines and help the site leave Old Town for a new, legal home on city land beneath a Broadway Bridge off-ramp.
"There is currently nowhere in the city where it's legal to sleep and be homeless," Fritz told the room, often to applause. "That cannot be. In a community that cares about individuals, I believe when you have a safe place for people to be in a rest area, that is an appropriate alternative other than doorways and sidewalks."
It's a major milestone—capping a fight that erupted almost immediately after the site sprang up in October 2011 on NW 4th and Burnside. But here's the rub: Any move is still weeks away—if it happens.
• Pearl District neighbors have railed at Fritz for keeping them out of the loop when she offered the rest-area land in their neighborhood, and must be pacified.
"Once they move it they are complicit in it, and they are violating every code," Patricia Gardner, president of the Pearl District Neighborhood Association, told the Oregonian.
• Fritz, who leads the Bureau of Development Services, has yet to divine the precise legal path she'll have to cut through the city's thicket of zoning and code rules. Neighbors and land-use attorneys have already written the city suggesting there's no route to a legal campsite. One letter, obtained by the Mercury, says "camping is a prohibited use" on the lot the city's chosen, and that changing the zoning to allow that would be hypocritical and subject to legal action.
• Some city money—likely from Portland Development Commission, not utility bureaus—must be found to hook up water and electrical service to the lot.
• Neighbors and R2DToo must also devise a "use agreement" governing how they'll use the site—and they'll have only 30 days to hammer out those details and prepare for the move once the legal agreement is final. Reaching an accord will require disabusing some Pearl District neighbors of their fears and stereotypes of the homeless—crime around Right 2 Dream Too's current spot has gone down.
Fritz says that process will be public, and likely will include some kind of city council hearing—but that the use agreement itself might not go before council for approval.
Still, she'll need council backing for whatever emerges. Her colleagues, so far, are waiting and watching. Her most vocal support has come from Mayor Charlie Hales, who runs the PDC and also the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.
“We look forward to the next phase—the relocation of Right To Dream—and the public input process,” he says. “I support her commitment to meet with the neighbors and businesses.”
Fritz, asked about those concerns in an interview, insists everything will work out and on time.
"I would not be entering into the agreement if I weren't confident that it would happen and that it can happen," she says. "The city's attorneys will be very involved."