What R2DToo might some day look like.
  • What R2DToo might some day look like.
There were persistent questions from Commissioner Nick Fish. There were nagging concerns from Commissioner Dan Saltzman. But in the end it was Commissioner Steve Novick—hands down the city council's most silent member, Wednesday, on the question of whether to move Right 2 Dream Too—who put the kibosh on a long-sought denouement for the saga around the respected homeless camp.

As the clock ticked down on a four-hour hearing that seemed to encompass all of the praise and heartburn we've heard about R2DToo in its four-plus years, Novick signaled that he wasn't quite ready to make a decision about the rest area's fate.

"I would feel more comfortable if we waited on a vote," he said, effectively hitting the emergency brake on a freight train. "There are some conversations I would like to have with staff."

The revelation clearly came as a surprise to Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz, the council's biggest advocates for moving Right 2 Dream Too from beneath downtown's Chinatown gate to an industrial plot near the east end of Tilikum Crossing. They were busy pushing last minute tweaks to appease Saltzman, and fending off concerns from Fish, who has questions about how the city will ensure people staying at R2DToo are moved into transitional housing.

Hales had just impressed on his colleagues that "it's time to decide on whether we’re going to go forward on this."

But Novick insisted. He wouldn't say after the meeting what his questions are, or whether he'd have voted against the move if Hales forced a vote. Neither would Fish.

So a move that's been in the works for years—well before Pearl District developers scuttled the last attempt to get R2DToo a new piece of land in 2013—will have to wait until next week to get a shot.

As to the rest of the hearing, it's everything we'd come to expect from this debate.

"I am incredibly impressed with what they do and how they do it," Central Eastside Industrial Council President Brad Malsin told council, before laying out a variety of reasons why the camp shouldn't be allowed to inhabit the property. He wasn't alone. Time and again, opponents of the move prefaced their testimony with a pledge that they're sympathetic to the R2DToo's need for a home, then offered up arguments for why this move wouldn't work.

Looming large among those arguments: That East Side Plating, a business adjacent to the proposed site, handles corrosive materials that require specialized handling and detailed plans for evacuation should anything go wrong. The company brought a whole band of employees to the hearing to testify about the peril homeless people would experience sleeping next door to their workplace.

Another argument: That City Hall is perverting its own zoning rules by allowing the move. As we've noted, a city opinion has found that R2DToo is a community service under zoning law. But conveniently, the opinion found the camp is neither "short-term housing" nor a "mass shelter"—neither of which would be allowed in the industrial area. Instead, the city's Bureau of Development Services decided R2DToo is a miscellaneous type of community service, and allowed.

"This will open up this type housing as an allowed use in industrial zones all throughout the city," Marion Haynes, of the Portland Business Alliance, said near the end of the hearing.

The opposition clearly rankled homeless advocates, some of who stated the obvious: There are already plenty of homeless people in the Central Eastside. The contemplated move would merely bring a well-respected model for assisting them into the neighborhood.

"Why you playing like you concerned about us now?" R2DToo co-founder Ibrahim Mubarak testified, addressing local businesses. "Trying to ridicule us and say how bad and nasty and ugly we are. We’re doing the things we need to do to become productive, while you keep putting the negativity on us."

Throughout, though, city council's approval of the move seemed like a foregone conclusion. Some opponents even testified about next steps the city should take, once it was approved. And the council had had no trouble agreeing on whether to vacate a tiny portion of SE Harrison that bisects the proposed camp site.

But something along the way had unsettled Novick. Now R2DToo's fate will have to be decided next week.