Top Stories 2023

The Biggest Portland Transportation News of 2023

PBOT struggles, Rose Quarter snags, and deadly crashes marked a busy year in Portland transportation.

The Biggest Portland City Hall News of 2023

This year, the city managed to help and harm the unhoused, while leaning on pre-pandemic work models to try to revitalize downtown.

The Biggest Portland Labor News of 2023

Move over "hot labor summer." 2023 was a hot labor year for Portland workers.

Portland's Top VILLAINS for 2023—Ranked!

Portland's villains were especially busy this year... here's who caused the most trouble.

The Biggest Portland Police News of 2023

Big police settlements, a new top cop, and whatever happened to oversight? All that and more in the biggest police stories of 2023!

The Biggest Portland Environmental News of 2023

Oil company lawsuits, asbestos rain, and Rubio disappoints activists: A lot happened in 2023's environmental news.

Multnomah County filed a nearly $52 billion lawsuit against big oil companies for their role in the deadly 2021 heat dome event.  

On a sunny June day, Multnomah County commissioners voted unanimously to sue 17 fossil fuel companies and big oil consultants, claiming the companies "have known their products were harmful for decades...and need to pay for the impacts of their pollution." The lawsuit is based on damages resulting from the 2021 heat dome event, when local temperatures reached an unprecedented high of 116 degrees and 69 Multnomah County residents died from hyperthermia. 

The county wants oil companies to pay $50 million in actual damages, $1.5 billion in future damages, and finance a $50 billion abatement fund to "study, plan, and upgrade the public health care services and infrastructure" to protect residents in future climate change-related emergencies. If that sounds like a lot of money, consider that fossil fuel companies pulled in a record $200 billion in profits in 2022 alone. They can pay for the harm their products have caused to the planet. As the earth scorches, they're morally obligated to.

After the old Kmart building in outer Northeast Portland went up in flames, asbestos rained down on residents of the surrounding Parkrose and Argay Terrace neighborhoods. 

In July, a former Kmart building in a vacant lot at NE 122nd and Sandy went up in flames, sending smoke and ashes across the surrounding area. Upon further inspection by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the ashes were proven to contain asbestos, and residents of nearby neighborhoods were instructed to stay inside and keep their pets inside as much as possible until the mess could be cleaned up. 

People who live near the lot are already concerned about what's going on at the site. The property is now owned by real estate logistics company Prologis, which plans to set up a freight warehouse in the abandoned lot. Since that plan was announced, residents of surrounding neighborhoods have voiced concerns about an influx of diesel trucks in their neighborhood, which will worsen air pollution. Obviously, the asbestos only worsened the relationship between these residents and Prologis. 

It also turns out that people have made complaints about dangerous activity at the property for some time. The Portland Bureau of Development Services issued a violation notice to the property owner several weeks before the building caught fire, but clearly, not enough was done to mitigate the problem. The whole saga resulted in a class action lawsuit against the property owners. 

Environmental activists kept pushing back against Zenith Energy. 

With a new commissioner, Carmen Rubio, at the helm of the Portland Bureau of Development Services (BDS) beginning this year, local climate activists hoped the city would take a different approach to doing business with oil transport company Zenith Energy. Instead, Rubio maintained the status quo. But protesters pushed back. 

Zenith, located in Northwest Portland, transports many millions of gallons of crude oil by pipe and train every year, with those trains passing through several Portland neighborhoods along the way. The company's facility is located in a seismically vulnerable part of Portland, and in the— very realistic— case of a major earthquake, it's very likely that hundreds of millions of gallons of oil would spill into the ground and the Willamette River.

Since Portland City Council seems intent on allowing Zenith to continue operations regardless of the future consequences, opponents have leveled up their means of protest, showing up to confront city politicians on kayaks in the Willamette River. During this year's annual Portland Youth Climate Strike, young advocates singled out Zenith as a local climate villain, calling on city and state governments to rescind their land use permit before it's too late. 

The Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund (PCEF) budgeted for a five-year, $750 million Climate Investment Plan. Then they found out they'd have an additional $540 million to spend

Here's what PCEF plans to fund with all its earnings, which come from a 1 percent tax on sales from large retailers: Building renovations at Portland Public Schools, the Portland Bureau of Transportation's basic operations, boosting the city's diminishing tree canopy, an electric bike rebate program, and much, much more. The fund allocated $750 million to its Climate Investment Plan, which targets clean energy investments so they will most benefit people of color and low-income Portlanders.

After a new revenue projection showed PCEF would have hundreds of millions more to spend over the next five years, program leaders came up with a new plan for the additional funding, which members of the PCEF committee and city commissioners will need to approve at the beginning of next year. For a city in a state without sales tax, this funding model might be the way to go for keeping crucial city programs running and expanding Portland's capacity to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.