Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Names Donnie Oliveira Permanent Director

The agency didn’t publicize his appointment.

Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability named insider Donnie Oliveira as its new permanent director, replacing Andrea Durbin, who resigned in March to spend more time with her family.

Oliveira, 42, joined BPS in 2019 as the agency’s communications director. He was promoted to deputy director in February 2020 and became interim director in March, when Durbin left.

City Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who oversees BPS, named Oliveira permanent director earlier this month but didn’t announce the appointment publicly.

In an interview today, Oliveira described his background and qualifications. Originally from California, he holds a degree in anthropology from the University of California, Davis. After graduation in 2003, he worked on waste management and sustainability programs in San Francisco, starting a program to recycle waste from concert venues.

A huge San Francisco Giants fan, he did the same thing at what is now Oracle Park, diverting 90% of the waste from landfills. He moved to Oregon in 2018 to work at the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, then joined BPS.

Rubio lauded Oliveira in an email to BPS staff on June 3.

“You will recall that in April I said I had confidence in Director Oliveira,” Rubio wrote. “Since that time, my staff and I continue to be impressed with his leadership and strategy in navigating critical decision points and planning. But most importantly, my office has and continues to receive positive feedback on Director Oliveira and the direction we outlined together in the April policy priorities memo. Beyond my personal experience working in partnership with Donnie, I have connected with city and community partners and they affirmed that he is the right person to lead BPS in this important moment of transition within the city.”

Oliveira takes over an agency that is in the spotlight because it oversees the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund, the climate justice fund that holds a whopping $298 million in corporate taxpayer cash. PCEF is funded by a surcharge on retailers with annual sales of both $1 billion or more in the U.S. and $500,000 or more within Portland.

In March, City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero said PCEF was awash in money but had not adopted methods to track, measure and report its performance, as required by the 2018 ballot measure that created it. PCEF also needed guidance on its climate goals from the Portland City Council and from the volunteer oversight committee that makes grants from the fund, Hull Caballero said.

Oliveira says he understands that people are impatient to see PCEF do more with its money.

“The idea that just because the money’s there that it magically turns into stuff just isn’t how it works,” Oliveira said. “We’re trying to convey to people that we feel their urgency. The cool part is, it’s actually starting to show up.”

PCEF contractors last week installed the first cooling unit in the home of a needy Portlander. A team from Earth Advantage and the African American Alliance for Homeownership connected the unit, the first of 15,000 heat pumps to be installed in Portland in the next five years. The installation comes almost one year after a freakish June heat wave sent Portland temperatures soaring to a record-smashing 116 degrees.

“We turned dollars into installations in less than six months,” Oliveira said. “For government, that’s pretty aggressive.”

PCEF plans to announce 66 new grants totaling $111 million for climate relief projects aimed at low-income communities of color in coming weeks. The Portland City Council will vote on the grantees July 13.

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability handles land use planning, climate action, environmental stewardship, and urban design. BPS says it centers racial equity in its work and is “dedicated to creating a Portland that is more equitable, healthy, prosperous and resilient.”