LOOKING BACK on the thing, 2015 feels important. Like, way more important than 2014.
This is the year Portland really acknowledged its housing crisis—then properly began arguing over how to fix it. It's a year in which the city sharpened its disdain for fossil fuels, and staged one of the more spectacular protests the country's seen to make its point. We successfully convinced yet another mayor to leave office, took our first-ever legal toke (which didn't feel all that different), and saved some huge trees (while failing to save a bunch of houses).
It was sad and messy, joyous and interesting—and we can't wait to do it all again. For now, here's the Mercury news staff's clichéd year-end list of the stories we'll carry with us into 2016.
Camping Ban Allowed!
Early this year, Portland's public defenders had the City of Portland's ban on homeless camping dead in their sights. They'd found a client—a young homeless woman named Alexandra Barrett—bent on fighting her frequent arrests for camping, and ready to take a case to trial. The argument Barrett's attorneys employed has become well known: That Portland doesn't have anywhere to put all of its homeless people, so its camping law essentially punishes people for being homeless. The same logic has since been adopted by the US Department of Justice in an Idaho case, but it ultimately held little sway here in Multnomah County. In early February, Circuit Court Judge Stephen Bushong issued a stern ruling that Portland's ban is "not the solution to this complex problem," but nonetheless affirmed its legality. The ruling, attorneys said, put the camping ban on its strongest footing in years.
Pulling the Plug on Pembina
Pembina Pipeline Corporation thought Portland was a shoo-in for its next gigantic propane export and storage facility, and with good reason: When the Canadian fossil fuel giant initially came knocking at the Port of Portland's door, port administrators and city lawmakers appeared welcoming. But after a 300-person-strong protest at the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and a resounding "NO" from many Portlanders, Mayor Charlie Hales yanked his support for the $500 million project. Pembina vowed to return, but climate change activists prevailed and it appears the project has been scrapped.
It was a shocking end to a historic career. Three months after becoming the first person elected Oregon's governor four times, John Kitzhaber abruptly resigned in mid-February. An ethics scandal that had been nipping at Kitzhaber's heels for months had finally overtaken the governor—with Democratic Party leaders calling for his head, and then-Secretary of State (and now Governor) Kate Brown making Kitzhaber look unglued in a press release detailing odd behavior. Despite his resignation, the jury's still out on exactly how bad the former governor's ethical lapses were. Evidence indicates his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, may have traded her position as first lady for cushy appointments, and there are allegations Kitzhaber tried to erase his emails from state servers. While Kitz has taken tentative steps back into the spotlight lately, federal authorities are still investigating the matter.
- Ryan Floyd Johnson
State lawmakers failed to get a minimum wage increase through during the 2015 legislative session, and activists working for "poverty wages" weren't pleased with the incremental steps legislators were proposing anyway. So the $15 Now movement took measures onto their own clipboards, and are working to gather more than 80,000 valid signatures by next summer. If they make it, the proposal to increase the statewide minimum wage will go to the voters on the November 2016 ballot.
It Happened Here (And Lots of Other Places)
On October 1, a 26-year-old student at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg walked into his freshman writing class packing an arsenal, then calmly murdered eight fellow classmates and the professor. Christopher Harper-Mercer killed himself after being shot by responding officers, and Oregon became the latest alarming backdrop for the mass-shooting epidemic that's overtaken the country. It's since been eclipsed by domestic terrorism incidents in Colorado and California. Gun sales are chugging right along. Congress is deadlocked. The same old song.
- Portland Bureau of Transportation
Bike Share at Last!
After years of delay, misadventure, and disappointment, Portland Bureau of Transportation in September announced a bike share system will finally roll out on city streets next year—and it'll be unlike most of the programs that have sprung up around the country. The bureau is promising a 600-bike system made up of innovative "smart bikes" that will be available near the city center. The business model is more like Car2Go than traditional bike share—rather than being tied to specific docks, you'll be able to park bikes virtually anywhere in town (though you'll pay a penalty if it's outside of certain prescribed zones). More importantly, the system's (relatively) cheap—millions less than what the city had counted on paying.
Make no mistake, gun violence has taken hold of the city this year. Portland police say there's been a record number of gang-related attacks in 2015—more than 173 as of this writing. And though some community members dispute the "gang" designation as lazy, there's no question violence has surged this year. Much of the bloodshed has been on the city's fringes, but one of the city's most popular events—Last Thursday on NE Alberta—was interrupted by a hail of gunfire in May. Three people were shot that evening, by a teenager who said someone looked at him wrong. Meanwhile, other attendees shamefully pouted that the crime had prevented them from getting into Salt & Straw.
South Park Saves "The Giants"
In a city where some feel the landscape is under attack by home demolitions and quick-rising apartment buildings, the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association decided to take action against Everett Custom Homes' owner Vic Remmers, whose employees arrived with chainsaws to take out three 100-plus-year-old sequoia trees in September. Neighbors and other Portlanders sick of seeing mature trees cut in the name of development staged a days-long standoff that finally culminated in South Park creator Matt Stone stepping in with a chunk of cash. Together with other donations, Stone's money was able to save the trees by buying the land back from Remmers for upward of $500,000. The lot where the trees stand will become a public park.
Lots happened—and is still happening—in news of Portland homeless camps this year. First, after searching for more than a year, Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz announced in April they'd found a new site for Right 2 Dream Too. It's in Southeast Portland, near the east end of the Tilikum Crossing (which opened this year, by the way!). Logistics of a move are still being debated. Meanwhile, the city saw the emergence of its latest sanctioned homeless camp. Hazelnut Grove, near the intersection of North Greeley and Killingsworth, will likely receive a formal city permit in coming weeks.
The City That Works (For One Term)
For much of the year, 2016's mayoral race looked nonexistent. Mayor Charlie Hales was Hoovering up cash from supporters, and no one seemed likely to challenge. Then Pembina happened (see above), upsetting some of the city's business interests enough that folks began actively looking for a Hales alternative. State Treasurer Ted Wheeler entered the fray in September, ensuring Portland would have two viable candidates to choose from. Then it had one again! Hales announced in October he'd decided not to run—making him the third straight mayor to bail after one term. And now? It's a race! Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey will officially enter the race in January. Fun times.
- Green Peace
Royal Dutch Shell sent one of its ice-breaking ships, the Fennica, to Portland for repairs, and our green city didn't miss the opportunity to fuck with the company. Local "kayaktivists" took to the Willamette River near Cathedral Park in an attempt to block the ship's departure, and were joined by 13 Greenpeace activists who'd dangled themselves beneath the St. Johns Bridge. The hullabaloo kept the ship at port for 36 hours longer than scheduled, made national news, and culminated in Mayor Charlie Hales taking a message to President Barack Obama urging him to pull the plug on Arctic oil drilling.
No More Fossil Fuels
The climate love kept coming. In a resounding win for climate change activists, Portland City Council in November enacted two resolutions. The first cemented the city's commitment to opposing mile-long "bomb trains" transporting crude oil through Portland. The second, passed a week later, made it a city policy to oppose any new infrastructure that would increase the capacity for storage or transport of fossil fuels.
All Hail Uber!
After first denying Uber and Lyft access into the Portland market, then letting them in on a Wild West-style, near free-for-all trial basis, then finding out Portlanders loved the "ride-sharing" companies, city council in December voted to allow so-called transportation network companies (TNCs) a permanent place in the city. Though Portland riders have embraced Uber and Lyft—the companies together now account for six out of 10 for-hire rides—the change came about under a cloud of controversy. Traditional cabbies say they're getting their livelihoods taken away by the interloping companies, riders who need wheelchair-accessible vehicles say they're not getting equitable service, and Portland Auditor Mary Hull Caballero chastised the ride-share companies, Mayor Charlie Hales, and Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick for a lack of transparency after Hales and Novick failed to report a meeting with Uber representatives at prominent Portland consultant Mark Wiener's home. Rule flouting or no, looks like Uber/Lyft are here to stay.
Portland Feels the Bern
Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders had been drawing ever-larger crowds on his US tour, but even Sanders said the 28,000 Portlanders who came to hear him speak at the Moda Center in August were "unbelievable." In addition to the 19,000 of us who crammed into the stands, another 9,000 gathered in overflow areas set up nearby. After the event, Sanders met with six local Black Lives Matter activists. Just the night before, Black Lives Matter protesters in Seattle interrupted a rally, causing enough disruption that Sanders left the stage.
Sure, Oregonians formally voted for legal recreational pot in November 2014, but it wasn't 'til the middle of this year we saw the fruits of that trailblazing (this pun works on many levels). Cannabis became legal in July, meaning Oregonians could possess and plant weed, though they still didn't have a place to legally buy it... until October. The state's real pot emancipation day was October 1, when hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries got permission to start selling buds to the masses. It's a hell of a thing.
- Mercury Staff
Nestlé Not Wanted
Though much-maligned candy-making Swiss corporation Nestlé has been eyeing Columbia River Gorge water for nearly a decade, 2015 was the year they almost snuck in without going through a public process. That, of course, angered tribes, environmentalists, and pretty much everyone else, which eventually convinced Governor Kate Brown to intervene on the plan to siphon Oxbow Springs' water out of the gorge. After a huge public outcry, a hunger strike by a Warm Springs tribal member, and a ballot measure proposal that could've banned the company, Brown finally nixed a complicated backroom water swap deal between the town of Cascade Locks and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife that would have given Nestlé a green light to build a water-bottling plant.
City Action on Skyrocketing Rents
As Portland saw vacancy rates plummet, a tidal wave of residents got no-cause lease termination notices and steep rent increases. Money was moving in, and renters—a largely unprotected and vulnerable population—were being forced out of neighborhoods and homes. The city initially threw up its hands, saying Oregon's landlord-favoring laws left local officials powerless. Then this summer, tenants' rights group the Community Alliance of Tenants declared a "state of emergency," calling on city administrators to help. Lo and behold, the next day Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman proposed a set of protections, and a few weeks later Mayor Charlie Hales called for a state of emergency. Now, the city's added about $67 million to the affordable housing coffers to be spent over the next 10 years and some fixes may be on the horizon for cost-burdened Portlanders.
Drunk on Power
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) is about to take on a huge new task—regulating legal weed. The agency made some... interesting headlines this year. In April, the Mercury reported that OLCC inspectors were following college co-eds around in unmarked cars, causing at least one Lewis and Clark College student to believe she was about to be abducted. The agency's since made changes—mandating uniforms with logos and requiring markings on inspector vehicles. Now, the inspectors feel those changes might make them targets. They want guns, and are in the process of petitioning for their own union, which could give them increased bargaining power to get permission to pack heat.
Street Fee, Out of Gas
The rattling clattertrap that was the "street fee" proposal lurched into 2015 on shaky wheels. Over and over again, Commissioner Steve Novick and Mayor Charlie Hales had changed their ideas for how Portland could find millions in new money to fix roads. On January 7, they announced their latest plan. Then eight days later they shut the thing down altogether—opting to hope for state transportation money that never came. Now, blessedly, the conversation is over, and it looks like Portlanders will finally get to vote on roads money. Novick wants to put a 10-cent local gas tax on the November 2016 ballot.