Business, construction and industry groups with money and clout sent a letter to the Portland City Council on Wednesday making it clear on whose side they stand in the ongoing battle between two city commissioners over how to fix the city’s fractured permitting system.
“We believe that now is the time to consolidate the city’s fragmented permitting functions into one entity,” reads the letter, signed by 11 industry and business groups. “It is our hope that city council move forward with a plan that creates a singular permitting office with adequate funding by July 2024.”
The letter comes as two city commissioners—Carmen Rubio and Mingus Mapps—work on competing plans to fix how the city doles out permits, a process that includes seven bureaus and which developers blame for the molasseslike pace at which new projects are permitted. Rubio seeks to consolidate all permitting under a new permits office; Mapps wants to edit city code and eliminate duplicative or conflicting language, which he argues is the fundamental issue.
Signatories of the Wednesday letter include the Home Building Association of Greater Portland, the Portland Metro Chamber (formerly the Portland Business Alliance), Oregon Smart Growth, the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors, Habitat for Humanity Portland Region, the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber, and the Associated Wall and Ceiling Contractors, as well as three other groups. A handful of those groups are well heeled and influential in state and local elections, including, historically, in city races.
“We disagree that any efforts to consolidate permitting would slow or reverse progress that’s been made,” the letter reads. “While we applaud the [permit task force) and city employees’ unwavering dedication to this work, it is inconceivable to think that ‘progress’ on any measurable scale has already been achieved. As many on this task force will attest, we need wholesale permitting reform, not a bureaucratic tug-of-war.”
Mapps last week called his and Rubio’s plans “fundamentally incompatible,” and added he was concerned that consolidation would undo progress made by a pilot project within his infrastructure bureaus (including the Water, Transportation and Environmental Services) and also lead to an exodus of permitting staff. Rubio argues that Mapps’ plan is a half-measure that doesn’t get to the heart of the problem, which is decentralized decision making.
Both commissioners have found public allies for their plans.
Last week, four city bureau directors—including three that oversee bureaus in Mapps’ portfolio—wrote a letter to the City Council urging it to adopt Mapps’ plan and to reject Rubio’s permits office.
Just two days later, the Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 737, which represents close to 3,000 construction workers across the state, urged the City Council in a letter to adopt Rubio’s plan.
Rubio and Mapps aim to bring separate ordinances to the City Council by the end of the month. And while they’re currently battling over permitting, they could soon be competing for an elected office: Portland mayor. Mapps announced his candidacy last month, while Rubio is widely rumored to strongly be considering a run.