POWERFUL BUSINESS and neighborhood interests are quietly lining up against a controversial homeless tent refuge that opened this month on a vacant lot at NW 4th and Burnside—pressuring city hall to clear the site as a code nuisance.
Just hours after nonprofit Right 2 Dream Too opened its settlement, the Old Town/Chinatown Neighborhood Association, the Portland Business Alliance, and others all began contacting city officials in search of a quick and muscular response, the Mercury has learned.
The calls for action appear in emails sent to and from Commissioner Dan Saltzman's office since October 10, the day the camp opened. Saltzman runs the Bureau of Development Services (BDS), which oversees code violations in Portland.
The array of interests is politically powerful. But one voice might appear louder than others: David Gold, developer of the soon-to-be rehabbed Grove Hotel across from the site.
"We are about to invest over $4 million across the street in the new [renamed] Grove Hostel," Gold wrote to Saltzman's office at 2 pm on October 10, not long after city inspectors showed up at the camp. "While I can't say that this homeless campground will kill the Hostel, my partners and I are understandably upset."
The Grove project is of keen interest to the city. The Portland Development Commission this summer agreed to lend Gold and his partners $2.46 million. Gold's partners are high powered in their own right: developer Howard Davis, John Jay of Wieden+Kennedy, and Ace Hotel's Alex Calderwood.
"BDS is not moving forward with any enforcement actions," cautions Brendan Finn, Saltzman's chief of staff. "They've simply asked the property owners to provide the city with a plan of what they're doing so we can determine how they can meet current codes."
Still, even as code enforcers visited the camp on opening day to "investigate," emails show staffers between the two offices, and Saltzman himself, nearly immediately began trying for an "expedited" solution.
"And we're all anxiously awaiting what you and Mike [Liefeld, code enforcement manager] discovered this afternoon," Matt Grumm, a Saltzman staffer, wrote to BDS spokesman Ross Caron. "Related to that, Dan would also like to know if there is an 'expedited' enforcement process."
But publicly, the city's response remained measured. In an October 12 email to business owners, neighbors, and Chinese community leaders—later passed on to Saltzman's office—Gold complained about a neutral quote from Caron in a news report.
"We need to make sure the city doesn't try to promote the idea that there is no opposition. From what I have heard, Saltzman's office must have received 20 calls. Based on the KOIN story, including the following quote, those complaints didn't register."
He didn't need to worry. That day, the city was already drafting a formal letter to the lot's owners, asking for a response in 10 days. And Grumm told neighbors, in an email previously revealed by the Mercury, that they should do their best to help log violations and bring the camp down.
"It is important in situations like this," Grumm wrote, "that good documentation of alleged code violations is made, so a strong record is in place when enforcement actions take place."
Life at the camp, meanwhile, has gone on mostly undisturbed. Mike Dee, Right 2 Dream Too's president, says a few drunks tried to mess with the camp last weekend, kicking down part of the camp's fence. Otherwise, donations and food and tents have been flowing in, with the camp now home to close to 100 people coming and going. As of press time, Occupy Portland was planning a march to the Old Town camp Tuesday, October 18, to show their support.
Andrew Alcante, 48, was waiting to smoke a cigarette near the fence on Monday, October 17. He said the camp has been a "relief"—better than the years he spent sleeping in bushes and in empty cars, getting pissed on or kicked by macho suburban kids. He's been accepted at Portland Community College and looks forward to starting next semester. If the camp is still around.
"I'm hoping somebody out there is listening and watching."