Murmurs: Auditor Slams City Attorney’s Office Over Police Accountability

In other news: Clean energy reforms raise wage questions.

AUDITOR SLAMS CITY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE OVER POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY: Portland’s elected watchdog, Mary Hull Caballero, is leaving office this January and pulling no punches on her way out. In a letter filed Nov. 8 in U.S. District Court, Hull Caballero told Judge Michael Simon she had no confidence in the City Attorney’s Office to “protect the interests” of her office—mainly, the authority to review body camera footage from Portland cops. The city and its police union are currently in closed-door negotiations over policies governing the use of the cameras, which have yet to be deployed, and the auditor says her office is being left out of the loop. “There is a high likelihood that the interest of the Auditor’s Office in having unfettered direct access to body-worn camera information and recordings for performance audits and investigations will be overlooked or traded away, despite our charter authority,” she wrote. The U.S. Department of Justice has told the city it expects the auditor’s office to have access to the footage and sued the city for its excessive use of force against street protesters and citizens with mental illness. Federal and city attorneys will meet Nov. 9 at a public hearing in front of Judge Simon to discuss the city’s failure to comply with an 8-year-old settlement agreement resulting from that lawsuit.

CLEAN ENERGY REFORMS RAISE WAGE QUESTIONS: When the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund was set up, it promised to follow state law and ensure that grantees paid their employees 180% of minimum wage, or $26.55 an hour, to install solar panels and heat pumps, build climate-friendly structures, and plant trees. But after City Commissioner Carmen Rubio’s revamp of PCEF, some advocates worry the pledge is in danger because of 13 new words in the code: “For purposes of this subsection, an employee is not a volunteer or trainee.” Ranfis Villatoro, a member of the PCEF grant committee, says those words could allow nonprofits to hire people at something less than a living wage just by calling them trainees, a term that is ambiguous. “It’s a disappointing outcome,” Villatoro says. Jillian Schoene, Rubio’s chief of staff, says her boss is aware of the problem and she intends to clarify the language in rule-making sessions to be held in the future. Until then, she says, the PCEF grant committee won’t approve projects that “pay less than the wage standard.”

STABBING OF LANDLORD WAS NO CRIME, PROSECUTORS SAY: Justin Valdivia, 46, was fatally stabbed in September in the living room of a squat four-bedroom house in Northeast Portland after sneaking into the rental he owned dressed as Michael Myers, the villain in the slasher flick Halloween. WW obtained a memo Nov. 4 from the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office justifying prosecutors’ conclusion that the Sept. 15 killing was self-defense. The origins of the dispute that led to Valdivia’s death are not clear. Police reports document repeated incidents of violence by Valdivia toward his tenants in the weeks prior to his death—he appeared upset that a former tenant continued staying as a guest at the house after ending his lease. The night of the incident, that former tenant had taken precautions. He armed himself with a “saberlike” sword and set a makeshift alarm on the door. When Valdivia snuck in to the residence at 1 am in a Michael Myers mask and “blue Dickie’s jumpsuit,” armed with a pellet pistol and a hammer, the former tenant stabbed him to death. Both the detective and county prosecutor assigned to the case agreed the killing was justified. Valdivia was committing burglary while “wielding what appeared to be two dangerous and deadly weapons,” the memo states.

APPEALS BOARD SLOWS COASTAL DEVELOPMENT: The Tillamook County hamlet of Tierra Del Mar, just north of Pacific City, became a flashpoint for coastal development in 2020 when a Facebook subsidiary botched the landing of an undersea cable there. Another proposed development in Tierra Del Mar has also generated controversy. Last week, the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals pumped the brakes on an 18-acre glampground proposed for a hillside above the town. Treehouse Partners LLC obtained permits earlier this year from the Tillamook County Board of Commissioners. But Tierra Del Mar residents and the Oregon Coast Alliance appealed, arguing Tillamook County had failed to consider the stability of the project’s hillside location and impacts on wetlands and wildlife. LUBA agreed and sent the project back to the county for reconsideration. OCA’s Cameron La Follette says county commissioners erred: “They approved the overall permit for the campground without requiring any studies of the site.” Treehouse Partners managing partner Kevin Gindlesperger says the needed studies are underway: “The concerns outlined in the appeal will be addressed as we move forward with the conditional use permit process.”