What A Year It Wasn't! 

What Your City Council Refused to Do in 2003

In 2003, local news began with a bang and ended with a whimper. For example, in early March 30,000 Portlanders gathered at Waterfront Park. For hours, the anti-war march snaked through the downtown blocks. There were signs reading, "How did our oil get under their sand?" and "I asked for universal health care and all I got was this lousy stealth bomber." Across the globe, 5 million other demonstrators joined in history's largest protest ever.

Two weeks later, Bush began the first U.S. bombing raids, devastating Iraq's countryside and rolling the Third Infantry steadily into Baghdad. The reaction in Portland was anger and frustration. On March 20, with rush-hour traffic already slowed by the throngs, protesters shut down the Burnside Bridge completely. Late into the night, protesters swarmed onto other bridges and, momentarily, onto I-5.

Although the demonstrations did not slow Bush's march towards war, locally the rallies did expose city hall's true colors. In the weeks leading up to the first bombing raids, residents vigorously lobbied city council to vote in favor of an anti-war resolution, sending more than 5000 postcards to city hall. In the '80s, Portland's city council often weighed in on international matters, passing resolutions decrying the Reagan administration's policies in Central America.

But when city council finally decided to weigh in on the proposed anti-war resolution, they voted it down, saying that international politics were beyond their scope. The most condemning vote came from council member and current mayoral candidate Jim Francesconi, who claimed he had made up his mind months before any public testimony or before the demonstrations had even begun. Cities from Eugene to Boston passed similar resolutions, leaving Portland alone as the only council in a liberally minded city to vote down the resolution.

In addition, a few days after protesters shut down bridges, Mayor Katz went out of her way to indirectly blame protesters for saddling the city with additional police expenses.

A month after the massive protests, the anti-war movement in town withered. A group calling itself the Peace Encampment staked itself out across the street from City Hall, where they remained late into the summer. But in a decisive move one summer night, the police swept through, confiscating sleeping bags and chasing protesters away. The Peace Encampment was the final scraggly reminder that there had been any anti-war demonstrations. Once they were gone, there was barely any mention in the local media.

BAD IDEAS GONE BYE-BYE

Portland did manage to dodge two bullets this year. In the face of budget crunches, the Portland Business Alliance proposed plopping a semi-public ice skating rink in the middle of Pioneer Square. The rink would have displaced activities from protests to beer festivals, and would have most likely cost the city tens of thousands. Even so, for months Mayor Katz entertained the idea.

But when the notion failed to catch the public's fancy, it slowly melted away. (However, a "scaled-down" version of the rink may still plague us in the new year. Stay tuned for details.)

Perhaps one of the most fortuitous events of the year was the forced resignation of Franklin "Kim" Kimbrough, the now-former president of the Alliance. Under his two-year watch, the Alliance forcefully lobbied city hall for more police escorts at Critical Mass and influenced Katz into enacting a sit-lie ordinance allowing police to legally move homeless men and women off the sidewalks.

In addition, the mayor's office--at least publicly--has stopped talking about attracting a major league baseball team to town. Cities like Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, Wisconsin have been badly burned after helping finance similar deals. However, although the idea to bring baseball to Portland has been dropped publicly, in early December city council renewed a contract with a consultant to continue exploring the option.

STILL PENDING

The most defining characteristic of the current city council and local politics seems to be their ability to never complete anything or take a definitive stand. In spite of the urgency of the city's economic woes, pressure from lawsuits, and swelling discontent with City Hall, it seems as if, more often than not, issues remain unresolved.

Strip Clubs: Next year could be a very bad year for strippers in Portland. In November, the Oregon Supreme Court heard arguments for a case called City of Nyssa vs. Miss Sally's Gentleman's Club. The case comes from a sleepy border town in Eastern Oregon. Surprisingly, the courts have so far agreed with Nyssa that cities should be able to set up regulations for the wearing of pasties and "six foot" rules. If the City of Nyssa's legal arguments win, it could open the door for regulating the stripping industry throughout Oregon.

This summer, council member Francesconi successfully lobbied city council to put forward a "friend of the court" brief which supports the City of Nyssa's position that "time and place" regulations on strippers are appropriate. That action may have tipped Francesconi's hand in that, if elected mayor next year, he would favor such regulations. A decision is expected from the Supreme Court any day now.

Exclusionary Zones: Under the "exclusionary zones" and "drug-free zone" rules, police may boot any person from a specified zone if the accused is even suspected of using drugs or being a prostitute. No judge, no jury.

In late November, circuit court judge Michael Marcus smacked down the law, saying it is unconstitutional for police to essentially convict someone on "mere suspicion" of a crime.

But 48 hours after the judge's decision, city council amended the wording of the zone rules in order to keep them in play; changing "suspicion" to "preponderance of evidence." It's expected that civil rights attorneys will once again challenge the ordinance this coming year.

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