If you’re reading this, it’s 2019.
You’ve already poured out the leftover glasses of flat champagne, scribbled some resolutions on a Post-it note that you will promptly lose, and proudly declared that this year won’t be like the last. We hear you.
But! Before you blindly embrace a blank calendar year like it’s your first date with an alluring stranger, it’s our job to remind you that 2019 comes with a whole lot of baggage from 2018. Sure, some of it is best forgotten (Knute Buehler’s goatee), but a lot of what went down in 2018 will inform this year’s crucial decisions, conversations, and questions. Like: Who is Jo Ann Hardesty? Are we still boycotting Burgerville? Did we make Patriot Prayer go away for good yet? And what happened to those dorky e-scooters?
So here’s a look back at 2018’s biggest (and weirdest) news stories—and some reminders of how they’ll influence Portland in the year to come.
Portland’s Eight Biggest News Stories
It’s been six years since the US Department of Justice ordered Portland’s police officers to reduce the number of violent interactions they have with people with a mental illness and people of color. But, when considering the four people who died at the hands of Portland law enforcement in 2018, it’s hard to see an improvement. Two of the men who died last year, Jason Washington and Patrick Kimmons, were Black. The other two, John Elifritz and Samuel Rice, were fatally shot while in the midst of a behavioral health crisis. What’s more, every officer involved in these shootings—officers representing the City of Portland, Multnomah County, and Portland State University—were cleared of criminal charges, sparking outrage, disappointment, and disillusionment with criminal justice reform from family members, friends, community members, and advocates for police accountability.
Renter Relocation Fees Made Permanent
The year started off with a victory for renters’ rights, with Portland city council finalizing Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s long-negotiated renter relocation policy, which requires that landlords cover moving costs for particularly vulnerable tenants. The policy kicks in when a landlord either issues a no-cause eviction or forces a tenant to move with rent increases of 10 percent or more within a year. Tenant rights’ activists say the measure has already decreased the number of no-cause evictions in Portland—but the new protections aren’t without problems. Shortly after the relocation ordinance was approved, an apartment complex in Southeast Portland announced it would be changing ownership and evicting all of its residents in the process. The landlord offered more than the city-required relocation funds to all tenants—but in Portland’s housing market, this still wasn’t enough to help longtime tenants find new homes. This is one of many wrinkles in the city’s renter protection system that still needs some work.
Burgerville Employees Unionize. Burgerville Fights Back.
Fed-up Burgerville employees made history this year by successfully organizing the country’s first federally-recognized fast food union. The Burgerville Workers Union (BVWU) began at the local chain’s Southeast 92nd and Powell store and has since expanded to the Gladstone and Southeast Hawthorne locations. But the company’s management hasn’t made it easy for the burgeoning union to negotiate their first contract, which asks for a higher hourly wage and health insurance for part-time employees. Burgerville has also leaned on coercive, anti-union messaging in an attempt to keep the BVWU from expanding to more stores across the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately for the fast food darling, BVWU not only has the backing of numerous Portland officials (including Mayor Ted Wheeler), but has also convinced many Burgerville fans to boycott the unquestionably delicious restaurant until the union contract is finalized.
TriMet Flip-Flops on Fares
In July, TriMet enacted a new policy that would give anyone cited for not paying bus or MAX fares 90 days to resolve that citation outside of the court system. This move, paired with a new low-income fare program, suggested the regional transit agency was softening to pro-rider policies. That win for transit advocates, however, was tripped up by an older fare-related case that’s still stuck in the courts. In March, Ana del Rocío was arrested for not giving her legal name to a police officer who had asked to see her MAX ticket. But since del Rocío was stopped in one of TriMet’s mass fare inspections—and not an incident where an officer had probable cause to detain her—the case was dropped by a Multnomah County judge. In doing so, the judge noted that TriMet’s technique of inspecting MAX fares violated both the Oregon and US constitutions. While TriMet has argued that they did nothing wrong, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum refused to appeal the county court’s ruling, leaving TriMet vulnerable to future fare-related lawsuits.
Minorities Sweep Local Elections
This was the year that Portlanders finally elected a Black woman—Jo Ann Hardesty—to the city council. Hardesty won in a November runoff against another Black woman, Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith. But the diversity in Oregon’s election cycle didn’t stop there: In Senate District 24, which includes the area between 82nd and Gresham and stretches out to Happy Valley, voters replaced incumbent male landlord Senator Rod Monroe with tenant lawyer Shemia Fagan; North Portlanders elected Susheela Jayapal to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, making her the first South Asian American to serve in public office in the state; and Lynn Peterson replaced outgoing Metro President Tom Hughes. Voters were clear: In Multnomah County, at least, the future is female.
Mayor Wheeler Tries (and Fails) to Fix Protests
It’s not a real Portland summer without a few violent clashes between right-wing militia group Patriot Prayer and lefty anti-fascist (Antifa) groups. Patriot Prayer, based in Vancouver, Washington, visited Portland a handful of times with no real purpose—except for taunting liberals and waving Confederate flags. Only after business owners complained that the protests were impacting commerce did Mayor Ted Wheeler put together a flimsy attempt to control future violent protests. His proposed ordinance—which would have allowed him to limit the time, location, and size of a protest—failed to pass the ACLU’s constitutionality test. It also didn’t survive a city council vote, leaving the city with few new ideas to handle whatever garbage Patriot Prayer intends on spewing on Portland in the new year.
Portland Occupies ICE, Wheeler Pays the Price
News that the Trump Administration was enacting a new “zero tolerance” border policy—one that includes separating immigrant children from their families and holding them in detention centers—roiled the nation in June. Locally, activists protested and camped out in front of a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility at the South Waterfront for weeks, until they were cleared by federal law enforcement officials. During the protests, Mayor Ted Wheeler said he wouldn’t be directing Portland Police Bureau (PPB) resources to assist ICE, saying he’d leave the job to the federal government. While PPB was still allowed to respond to 911 calls from the ICE facility, Wheeler’s stance didn’t sit well with the union representing ICE employees, the National ICE Council. In October, the union announced it was calling for a criminal investigation into Wheeler’s decisions during the protests, claiming the mayor used his “police powers to harm those he believes possess alternative political beliefs.” Wheeler issued a sharp response, saying ICE was “coming after me because I am a vocal opponent of the administration’s policy of separating kids from their parents.” The union still intends on suing the city.
Immigrants Unlawfully Held in an Oregon Prison
The Trump administration’s draconian decision to arrest any immigrant requesting asylum in the US had an unexpected and unprecedented impact on Oregon’s prison system. That’s because 120 immigrant men seeking protection in the US were swooped up at the US-Mexico border and plopped in a rural prison in Sheridan, Oregon, some 50 miles southwest of Portland. The men represented 16 countries and spoke 13 languages. The prison staff, who were given less than a week’s notice before the new inmates arrived, had little (if any) information on what rights federal immigrant detainees are allowed—meaning that for months, all of the immigrants were denied constitutionally mandated legal aid, translation services, phone access, and health care. After an intervention by the ACLU, a federal court ordered the prison to allow immigration lawyers inside—resulting in the eventual release of almost every incarcerated immigrant.
Portland’s Five Weirdest News Stories
People Still Really Wanted to Turn a Prison into a Homeless Shelter
A once-rejected idea to turn an abandoned prison into a homeless facility was resurrected in 2018 and, surprising no one, was again rejected. The charge was led by two candidates for Oregon public office—Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, a failed candidate for Portland City Council, and Knute Buehler, a failed gubernatorial candidate—and backed by neighborhood associations with notoriously anti-homeless stances. Actual homeless people and longtime homeless advocates, however, opposed the idea of shuttling houseless Portlanders to an isolated detention center 12 miles outside of downtown Portland. Most Multnomah County Commissioners agreed and voted to sell the county facility to a private developer. The verdict’s still out on what the desolate property will turn into.
City Hall Communications Got... Strange
Mayor Ted Wheeler’s media and communications guidelines got an unexpected overhaul this year—a few times! First, the mayor’s office announced it would be holding monthly press conferences and would turn an unused room in City Hall into a reporter work space. Cool! Then, Wheeler hired a new communications director, former KOIN reporter Eileen Park. Suddenly, Wheeler had a new social media persona—one that “called out” ACLU lawyers, provoked right-wing rabble rousers, and boasted about past victories. Portland’s Twitterverse cringed. Not long after, Park’s plans to invite hand-picked reporters to watch a protest from inside the police bureau’s command center—and asking said reporters to sign a non-disclosure agreement beforehand—were made public. Double cringe.
A Horse Tried to Sue Its Abusive Owner
This year, a national animal rights organization attempted to turn an Oregon horse named Justice into a celebrity. The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) argued in a Washington County courtroom that Justice should be able to sue his former owner for personal injury, since his past owner’s neglect had left the horse with serious life-altering health issues that his new owner couldn’t afford. This would have made Justice the first animal to be given the legal autonomy to sue a human. Despite hearing a well-polished argument, Judge John Knowles rejected the case, on the grounds that a “non-human animal... lacks the legal status or qualifications necessary for the assertion of legal rights and duties in a court of law.” But Justice’s fight isn’t over yet. ALDF plans to appeal Knowles’ decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals.
A Louisiana Senator (and Trump) Called for Mayor Wheeler’s Resignation
Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy was probably just looking to score points with his conservative base when he called on Mayor Ted Wheeler to resign. Cassidy butted into Portland politics back in August, a few months after Wheeler said he wouldn’t be directing Portland Police Bureau (PPB) resources toward assisting officers at the ICE protest, which Cassidy took to mean Wheeler was “banning” police from helping ICE. That wasn’t quite true—PPB still responded to calls for help when they received them—but it registered high enough on the conservative outrage scale for Cassidy to introduce a resolution calling for Wheeler to resign.
Cassidy’s resolution came just a day after Donald Trump called out Wheeler in a speech at the White House. In October, Fox News’ deranged opinion roundtable The Five went after Wheeler in an eight-minute-long segment, castigating the mayor for supposedly enabling Antifa.
E-scooters invaded Portland streets with all the force of a middle school fad—and disappeared just as quickly. Back in July, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) launched an e-scooter pilot program, and what followed were 120 heady days of e-scooting madness, particularly around the city center. But according to a PBOT survey, the program—featuring scootin’ machines from very cool single-word companies Bird, Lime, and Skip—didn’t do much to serve the city’s wider transportation needs. As expected, most e-scooter riders never used them to access public transportation, and the majority of users lived in Portland’s richest neighborhoods. Oh, and apparently people were throwing their e-scooters into the Willamette River after they were done with them? PBOT is expected to release more of its findings from the pilot project in early 2019, which will help determine whether Portlanders get to e-scoot another day.
Five News Stories to Keep Following
Where’s That Navigation Center?
In April, city and county officials called a press conference to announce the construction of a homeless shelter on the edge of Portland’s Pearl District. Officials seemed especially excited because it was going to be entirely bankrolled by private benefactors—notably, Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle and local developer Homer Williams, both of whom have criticized the city’s response to homelessness. The planned facility was promised as a “navigation center” of sorts for the Portland houseless population, helping connect those in need to existing services. Boyle and Williams promised the facility would be up and running by the end of 2018. Williams’ staff is now saying it’ll be built sometime in the spring, just as the deadliest months of the year for Portland’s homeless population come to a close.
Meet Commissioner Hardesty
January 1 marked the first day in nearly 20 years that Dan Saltzman wasn’t working in Portland City Hall. Portland elected Jo Ann Hardesty, a former NAACP leader and former state legislator, to take over for the retiring commissioner in 2019. Hardesty’s promised a new era of police accountability in city hall, starting with a complete audit of the entire Portland Police Bureau and a freeze on officer hires. She’s also called to sever ties with the city’s controversial Joint Terrorism Task Force, a partnership with the FBI that some say undermines community trust with local cops. Hardesty is expected to shake up the political tilt of the current council—especially now with Saltzman, the council’s most conservative commissioner, stepping down. We’re ready for some new energy on the council dais.
Cops Without Guns
The city will kick off the year by hiring a brand-new variety of cop, dubbed a “Public Safety Support Specialist” (PS3 for short). PS3s, employed by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), will not carry a firearm, make arrests, or drive patrol cars. They’ll wear tan khakis and green polos with a PPB emblem, and instead of guns, they’ll be armed with pepper spray. According to the PPB contract, these new employees will investigate property crime, traffic accidents, and other low-level, non-violent crimes. Skeptics suggest the position is just a watered-down response to Portlanders who have called for unarmed officers who are more engaged with homeless and mentally ill populations. The city, meanwhile, says PS3s will simply free up other officers’ schedules and shorten the notoriously long 911 call response times within the bureau.
Major League Baseball on the Horizon
In 2018, the idea of a Major League Baseball (MLB) team in Portland went from being a complete fantasy to being a fantasy with renderings. In November, the Portland Diamond Project—a group spearheaded by former Nike executive Craig Cheek and boasting investors that include Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and singer Ciara—announced it had entered into a tentative deal to purchase the Port of Portland’s Terminal 2, with plans to turn it into a baseball stadium. Mayor Ted Wheeler is on board with the idea—he said the city wouldn’t directly fund the stadium but would be open to waiving associated development fees—but the process of wooing the league can take years. Will this stadium be built? Will it include a sky tram to rival OHSU’s, as the renderings suggest? What will the new MLB team be called? How much will everyone hate that name? Will the ballpark charge $11 for a 10-ounce Coors Light? Stay tuned—or, you know, insert baseball analogy about waiting to see here.
Affordable Housing: Coming Soon (Again)
In November, voters in the greater Portland region approved a $652.8 million bond to create about 4,000 units of affordable housing. It will be up to Metro, the regional governing body, to facilitate the dispersal of that bond, which will fund housing projects for low-income residents of Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties. Oregon voters also passed Measure 102, which gives municipal governments the freedom to partner with private developers and nonprofits when spending bond dollars on housing projects. The passage of this ballot measure will unlock some additional funding for the City of Portland, which passed its own housing bond back in 2016. All of this adds up to more affordable housing, both within and outside of Portland city limits. If all goes to plan, the vague projects promised in the Metro bond will begin to come into focus in 2019.