Michael Wright, co-owner of the current site at NW 4th and Burnside, signs legal papers dropping his lawsuit against Portland.
  • Michael Wright, co-owner of the current site at NW 4th and Burnside, signs legal papers dropping his lawsuit against Portland.
A little before 1 this afternoon, representatives of Old Town homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too, joined by their current landlord on NW 4th and Burnside, formally agreed to settle a months-old lawsuit challenging thousands of dollars in city code fines—clearing the way for an equally controversial move to a Pearl District parking lot beneath a Broadway Bridge feeder ramp.

Details about the settlement have been leaking out all weekend, after a Friday night negotiation session—waiting to become official until the city attorney's office gave its assent to the terms this morning. Commissioner Amanda Fritz was expected to join the group in a city hall press conference at 1:30.

The six-page document—handed out after Ibrahim Mubarak, Amber Dunks, and landlord Michael Wright put their names on it—confirms many of them. Unpaid fines levied against R2DToo will be waived. And everyone has agreed that the the issue driving R2DToo's lawsuit against the city—whether Portland correctly labeled the site at 4th and Burnside an illegal recreational campground—will "need to be resolved by a court in a future case." That was a major sticking point as negotiations intensified in recent weeks.

Ibrahim Mubarak of Right 2 Dream Too signs a settlement agreement paving the way for the homeless rest areas move from Old Town to the Pearl.
  • Photographs by Denis C. Theriault
  • Ibrahim Mubarak of Right 2 Dream Too signs a settlement agreement paving the way for the homeless rest area's move from Old Town to the Pearl.
The other major beef had to do with Wright's land. The city was pretty firm in its desire that Wright not host another camp on the site, which he had threatened to do. And after some back and forth, Wright and his co-owners agreed to "prohibit any and all future camping activities" while any of them hold some stake in the land. (Or until, if another legal case emerges, someone tells them it's legal to put up a camp.)

Wright has made no secret he wants to unload his lot. He told me, outside city hall, that there has been some discussion about the Portland Development Commission purchasing it. His land has been a hot subject in city hall for years. It used to house an adult bookstore that Randy Leonard had shut down because of code violations. Wright tried food carts, too, but city rules prohibit them on the site. The camp was his way, he's told me before, of getting the city's attention. It may have worked.

The agreement does not spell out a strict timeline for the move. It does say, however, that the city will put fences and "no trespassing" signs up around Wright's land for six months. And that the city won't pay for Right 2 Dream Too's move out of the property. Fritz had told me there might be some money involved in setting up the new site with water and electrical service. It's unclear if that's still part of the deal.

Fines previously paid by the group—I'm currently unsure of how much—will not be recouped, attorney Mark Kramer told someone outside city hall before the presser. "We had to give a little to take a little," he said.

Fritz's office sent a release (pdf) before the conference with a statement and a copy of the settlement. It says the PDC will allow the city to use the lot beneath the bridge and that a public process over a "use agreement" for the move would be launched. Pearl neighbors have complained about the move—and the lack of public process. The use agreement is spelled out in the settlement paperwork. The move would happen 30 days after a use agreement emerges.

“Previously, the policy was to impose fines on the property owners leasing to R2DToo, without reaching long-term solutions,” her statement said. “I have long believed we need to expand our thinking and approaches to providing safety for the 1,800 people living outside in Portland. This settlement plan is a pilot project aimed at supporting an alternative solution for people living outside which has proven its effectiveness.”

Update 3:55 PM: Mayor Charlie Hales, name-checked by Fritz for his and his office's help in securing a settlement (he's head of the PDC), seems likely to back Fritz as she works with skeptics in the Pearl over a use agreement. And as commissioner in charge of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, the yin to the yang of Fritz's Bureau of Development Services, Hales also seems ready to help Fritz untie some gnarly code and zoning knots associated with the new site.

“I commend Commissioner Fritz, and the organizers of Right To Dream, for seeing these negotiations through. It is clear that no one answer will solve the homelessness issue in America. But the Right to Dream has one answer, for one segment of the homeless population," Hales says. “We look forward to the next phase—the relocation of Right To Dream—and the public input process. I support her commitment to meet with the neighbors and businesses, prior to executing the use agreement, and to develop a good neighbor agreement.”

Fritz will need help. During the press conference, she said she doesn't believe the new site's zoning will present any impossible code or legal challenges. But a letter from land use attorney Christe White of Radler White Parks Alexander, sent to City Attorney Jim Van Dyke on August 28, shows not everyone agrees.

The six-page letter (pdf), obtained by the Mercury, breaks down the code and zoning rules for the kind of lot the city wants to move R2DToo. It says a site like R2DToo is not allowed and that the city could face legal challenges if it tries to bend or amend its rules without going through proper, long, and bureaucratic channels.

"If the city intends to follow the current rules, a homeless camp at the Lovejoy Property is not permitted under City Code," it says. "And, even if permitted, would be required to seek and obtain design review approval before any use or development could occur."

Later it says, "The city cannot simply move the camp without the appropriate reviews. Such an action violates city code and will likely precipitate legal action that will prevent the relocation."

Update 4:46 PM:
Fritz tells me that the city attorney's office has been deeply involved in the decision to offer Right 2 Dream Too the Lovejoy lot as part of the settlement talks. She also says the lawsuit wouldn't be dropped until the move goes off—and that won't happen without proper approvals, meaning the attorney's office was providing guidance on feasibility the whole way.

"I would not be entering into the agreement if I weren't confident that it would hapen and that it can happen," she says.

Fritz also said she's not sure yet what all the steps toward approval might be—there could be different routes to a "use agreement"—but that the city attorney's office will remain involved, along with Portland Development Commission attorneys. She wouldn't comment when asked what routes to an approval she might be considering.

"I want to make sure we do everything correctly," she says.

One major issue Fritz was decidedly clear about? Her colleagues on the council will vote on something related to the agreement, with the public given an opportunity to talk to the city commissioners. But it very likely won't be the negotiated use agreement with Right 2 Dream Too itself.

Most use agreements between tenants and the Bureau of Development Services never receive council scrutiny, she says. And, she said, she and Hales both agree that "I don't want to set the precedent that everything development services permits has to come before the council."