There was plenty of big news in 2007—but most of it can't be wrapped up neatly, tied with a shiny bow, and archived as the year closes. From the end of Portland's Drug-Free Zones to the reinstatement of the city's sit-lie law, and from the attempted renaming of Interstate Avenue to Mayor Tom Potter's announced retirement, most of the year's biggest issues are far from over. Here's a recap of what went down in 2007—and how the issues might finally be resolved in 2008.
A New Sit-Lie Law
Despite protests by homeless and civil liberties advocates, city council finally passed a controversial sit-lie law in August. Between August 30 and October 30, 13 citations were given, all to homeless people, giving credence to the naysayers' arguments that the law was going to be used as a "move-along" law targeted at the homeless.
The Portland Business Alliance, which championed the law, is in backroom negotiations with homeless advocates including Street Roots, Sisters of the Road, and the Western Regional Advocacy Project to design a new public oversight process for its private rent-a-cops, who have frequent contact with the city's homeless.
Guards working for Portland Patrol, Inc. (PPI) issued 2,274 park exclusions between November 2006 and 2007, and have been "educating" citizens about the new sit-lie law. The outcome of the oversight negotiations should become clear in the new year, but it's yet to be seen whether PPI guards will wear uniforms that make them look less like cops, or get rid of their guns.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Erik Sten, an advocate for Portland's homeless, is marching ahead with plans to build a permanent day-access center that'll give those shoved aside by the sit-lie law a place to go. The center may even break ground by the end of 2008—despite neighborhood opposition in Old Town—if all goes according to plan.
End of the Drug Free Zones
Mayor Tom Potter got rid of Portland's controversial Drug-Free Zones when they expired on September 30, after a report by an independent consultant found they had been disproportionately used against black people.
Commissioner Randy Leonard got almost $1 million in the council's fall budget bump to expand treatment services for those arrested in the old zones, as well as provide for more foot patrol officers that will be starting in early 2008—a real solution, not a quick fix.
James Chasse Lawsuit
The family of James Chasse Jr.—the 42-year-old man with schizophrenia who died in police custody in September 2006—filed a federal lawsuit against the city back in February. The city attorney's office, however, has since spent the year delaying the release of crucial documents in the case to the Chasse family's lawyer, Tom Steenson.
Meanwhile, the police bureau has yet to complete its internal affairs investigation into Chasse's death, and the officers involved continue to patrol the streets. The family appears to be more interested in pursuing reform at the bureau than in a hefty financial settlement. Depositions in the case begin in January.
Bike Fatalities Spur FIXES
Two horrific bike-truck collisions this fall took the lives of cyclists Tracey Sparling and Brett Jarolimek. In response, Commissioner Sam Adams launched a bike safety committee, squeezed $200,000 out of the fall budget adjustment, and made plans to shore up bike safety at 14 intersections around town.
The plan for those improvements—things like "bike boxes" and better traffic signals—is ready for council approval in January, and Portland Department of Transportation workers are ready to implement the fixes in 2008.
Gay Rights Approved
In April, the state legislature approved two sweeping gay rights laws: One allows same-sex couples to unite in domestic partnerships that give them the same state responsibilities and rights as married couples. The other prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Surprisingly, the Oregon Family Council declined to fight the new laws. But another anti-gay coalition did attack the laws, launching a referenda campaign with the hopes of delaying both laws until the public got a chance to vote on them. Their signature gathering fell short this fall, but the anti-gay activists persisted, filing a federal lawsuit over signatures they say were unfairly tossed out of the domestic partnership referendum effort. A hearing on December 28 will determine whether the activists get an injunction or whether couples can get 'partnered' on January 2, as currently planned (for more on that, see News, pg. 9). The lawsuit will likely drag on throughout 2008, but activists might also launch a repeal effort, with their eye firmly on the November 2008 ballot.
God forbid you're ever taken to one of the county's jails: Several allegations of beatings at the Multnomah County Detention Center by sheriff's deputies came to light this year, prompting County Chair Ted Wheeler to propose taking over control of the jail system from beleaguered Sheriff Bernie Giusto.
Giusto is hardly a model of good citizenship, personally—he faces two ethics panels at the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training in Salem next spring, over allegations he lied about his knowledge of former Governor Neil Goldschmidt's abuse of a 14-year-old girl, and about his affair with Goldschmidt's wife, Margie.
Interstate Rename Fiasco
Oh, what a mess. This spring, a coalition of Latino leaders and allies brought a great idea to Mayor Tom Potter: They wanted to rename Interstate Avenue in North Portland for labor hero César E. Chávez. Unfortunately, instead of following the process clearly spelled out in the city code—which leaves the city council out of the issue until they give the final approval—Potter and the council gave their initial support. That, in turn, ticked off neighbors who felt the rename was a "done deal" before they had a chance to weigh in. But neighborhood opposition won out in the end—prompting Potter to walk out of a council meeting, and declare himself "irrelevant"—and the council proposed substituting 4th Avenue for Interstate. (That idea was knocked down by Chinatown neighbors, and the council ultimately told rename proponents to follow the official rename process). The Chávez committee heads into 2008 reportedly planning to bring back the rename campaign.
Mayor Tom Potter Retires
Sporting a scruffy post-vacation beard, Mayor Tom Potter made an announcement on September 10—he was retiring (again). Following the spectacular failure of Potter's attempt to change Portland's form of government into one with a strong mayor back in May, and the continued head-scratching, butt-of-jokes project that is "visionPDX," Potter's departure from public office surprised exactly no one. In 2008, expect more irrelevancies from Potter's office.
Commissioner Adams Runs
Almost a month after Potter's announcement that he wouldn't run for reelection, Commissioner Sam Adams launched his mayoral bid. To date, nine political unknowns are challenging him, but a "serious" competitor has yet to emerge. As 2007 wound down, downtown travel agency owner Sho Dozono unveiled an exploratory website, showyoursupportforsho.com, and will reportedly announce his intentions in January.
Independent Police Review Reviewed
Complaints against the cops for excessive force are down 35% this year compared to last according to City Auditor Gary Blackmer, but that's perhaps because an independent review of the Independent Police Review—due to be presented to council on January 16 by consultant Eileen Luna-Firebaugh—appears to be on the verge of concluding that the public doesn't trust the complaints process.
All-Ages Music Effort
Portland's all-ages music advocates, led by Mercury columnist Cary Clarke, urged the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) to loosen up rules barring minors from venues that serve alcohol. Arguing that minors and drinks can safely coexist in some venues, the advocates had their fingers crossed at a December 13 OLCC board meeting where liquor commissioners weighed in on the proposed rule change. Unfortunately, the OLCC board reaffirmed its reputation as a group of curmudgeonly hardliners, voting against the proposal 3-2.
In February, however, the board will reconsider the proposal.