The Portland Public Schools board today urged Gov. Kate Brown to tell the Oregon Transportation Commission to back away from consideration of a hot-button Portland issue at commission meeting scheduled for Dec. 16 in Lebanon, Ore.
The five-member Oregon Transportation Commission, whose members Brown appoints, meets monthly and holds those meetings all over the state to be equitable.
Critics of the proposed $450 million expansion of I-5 at the Rose Quarter are unhappy that commissioners will be discussing the project 100 miles away from the parties that will be directly affected. That distance will make it difficult for people to attend the meeting in person.
PPS is concerned about the project's impact on Harriet Tubman Middle School, which is adjacent to I-5. Other stakeholders including Albina Vision, the City of Portland, Metro and Multnomah County have also expressed a desire for ODOT to do further study before moving forward with the project.
Here's the message PPS sent Brown today.
"It appears that the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) will deliberate and potentially take action on the I-5 Albina/Rose Quarter improvement project at their meeting next week, which is disappointing given that there was a request from community partners to defer action," the board wrote.
"It is unfortunate that they have put this on the agenda for a meeting that will occur about 100 miles away from the community most significantly impacted by the project. We believe having this discussion remotely instead of in the neighborhood where impacts will be felt most acutely will be perceived as a hostile action and further cement the longstanding distrust many in the community have with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT)."
The district is asking Brown to intercede with commissioners—who ultimately report to her—to slow down and deal with the issue in a subsequent meeting closer to the Rose Quarter.
"We respectfully request that you ask the OTC to have the discussion and entertain a decision in Portland, not in Lebanon," the board wrote. "As ODOT attempts to transform under new leadership, we hope they will put serious thought into how they do meaningful, sincere community engagement."
Brown's spokewoman, Kate Kondayen, says the governor will not involve herself in the scheduling dispute.
"Boards and commissions manage the day-to-day affairs of their own meetings according to statute and best practice," Kondayen says in an email. "The Oregon Transportation Commission is best suited to field and receive requests to change their meeting locations."
ODOT spokesman Tom Fuller says the agency and the OTC are not trying to hide from critics. "There is absolutely no attempt to stymie public input by holding the meeting away from Portland, Fuller says.
"The locations of these OTC meetings are set nearly a year in advance," Fuller says. "When there is a need for extensive public input on an issue, meetings and open houses are held in the impacted community as they were for Value Pricing last year and as they have been for Rose Quarter in the past. Further, no matter what decision the commission makes, there will many more opportunities for public input at meetings held in Portland."