KOTEK WANTS TO BOLSTER DEQ's AUTHORITY: House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) reacted strongly to the catastrophic 2018 fire at NW Metals, a car scrapping business located in her district. Now she wants to prevent the scrapper from operating at a new location. As WW reported last week, ("Hell on Wheels," March 3, 2021), the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is on the cusp of issuing NW Metals an operating permit, in part because the agency believes current law does not allow it to hold previous bad actions against applicants. Kotek wants to close that loophole—and will introduce a bill that would allow the agency to consider an applicant's compliance history and deny permits to "chronic violators." "Businesses that repeatedly violate our air quality and environmental standards put our communities in danger," Kotek said in a statement. "The DEQ should have the authority to deny permits based on multiple past violations so we can prevent avoidable catastrophes like the 2018 fire at NW Metals."
VACCINES FOR MOST BY APRIL 21: For Oregonians still waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine, the past two weeks have brought good news. First, on Feb. 26, Gov. Kate Brown announced every Oregonian would be eligible for a vaccine by July 1. Then, on March 2, President Joe Biden announced he expected to have enough doses for every adult in the country by the end of May. But there's another date the Oregon Health Authority has been more quiet about: April 21. That's when the state expects to have enough doses on hand for 70% of adult Oregonians to receive their first dose. (That projection assumes current projections of supply hold steady.) With a significant portion of Oregonians hesitant or outright opposed to receiving a vaccination, that may mean that everyone who wants one should be able to find a dose close to that date. "Based on current federal forecasts of vaccines received, we should actually be at a place at April 21, where we would have received enough vaccines to hit 70% of the adult population and, as the president said yesterday, by the end of May, 100% of the adult population," Oregon Health Authority director Pat Allen told the Oregon House Subcommittee on COVID-19 on March 3. "We think this is a reasonably reliable forecast of where we should be."
CITY COUNCIL EXPEDITES SECURITY GATES: On March 3, the Portland City Council unanimously approved an emergency ordinance that would accelerate approval of security measures, such as roll-down gates, in the downtown core. The issue arose when Brookfield Properties, owner of Pioneer Place, filed a permit application to install gates at the mall's seven entrances and learned the approval process could take 103 days or longer ("The Gatekeepers," WW, Feb. 10, 2021). Although the Historic Landmarks Commission raised objections, Commissioner Dan Ryan, who oversees the Bureau of Development Services, and Mayor Ted Wheeler convinced colleagues the ordinance would help downtown reopen faster. "We understand the impact the lack of foot traffic coupled with vandalism have had in commercial districts throughout the city," Ryan told WW.
COUNTY ZOOMBOMBS ITSELF: On Feb. 23, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners met in executive session—meaning the public was excluded but the press could attend but not report on the meeting. Topic of discussion: labor issues with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the biggest union representing county employees. But county staff inadvertently made a recording of the Zoom meeting public, allowing AFSCME to listen in on what were supposed to be confidential talks between labor relations staff and commissioners. AFSCME representative Eben Pullman subsequently notified county officials that the union strongly disagreed with staff's characterization of the union's position on key issues. "We were deeply upset," Pullman says. "It really undermined our confidence in labor relations staff to accurately characterize our positions." Pullman brought AFSCME's complaints to county staff, who he says then corrected the record in an email to commissioners, which might never have happened without the broadcast mistake.