Murmurs: Lawmakers Consider Increasing Retirement Benefits

In other news: No carts for Darcelle XV Plaza.

LAWMAKERS CONSIDER INCREASING RETIREMENT BENEFITS: In a short session that was supposed to be about recriminalizing drugs and generating more housing, Democrats added complexity Feb. 6 by proposing to increase retirement benefits for district attorneys, 911 operators, and Oregon State Hospital staff by placing them in the same benefit category as police and firefighters—worth a 20% increase. House Bill 4045, sponsored by state Rep. Dacia Grayber (D-Portland), would also lower the retirement age from 60 to 55 for police and firefighters in the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System’s newest tier, the Oregon Public Service Retirement Plan. “Police and fire positions are very difficult for both your physical health and mental health,” the firefighters’ union testified. “Our bodies are broken down by the time we retire, as well as our mental health having taken a long career of stress.” The bill comes at a time when PERS still faces a large unfunded liability (there is only enough money to meet 78% of obligations) and would partially undo benefit cuts spearheaded by then-House Speaker and now-Gov. Tina Kotek in 2019. Public employee unions testified enthusiastically on behalf of HB 4045, but local governments warned that increasing retirement benefits would come at the expense of services and the salaries of employees. “We are concerned that HB 4045 risks making the entire system insolvent,” testified the Special Districts Association of Oregon.

NO CARTS FOR DARCELLE XV PLAZA: The Portland Parks Foundation spent much of last year trying to figure out what to do with O’Bryant Square, now called Darcelle XV Plaza, the sliver of blighted city property at Southwest Harvey Milk Street and 9th Avenue. Among the things that 400 respondents wanted to see at the square once known as “Paranoid Park” and “Needle Park”? Food carts. They are a tradition in the neighborhood. The most famous cart pod in the city once filled a parking lot just off O’Bryant’s southwest corner. Now, that pod is a high-rise Ritz-Carlton hotel with a smaller pod called Flock. So why no food carts in Portland Parks & Recreation’s proposal for Darcelle? Emails obtained by WW offer a clue. On Sept. 1, city parks official Dyan Paul wrote to colleague Ross Swanson, outlining their plan to award a contract to Downtown Portland Clean & Safe, a public-private partnership that provides security and trash pickup to downtown businesses. The email says Clean & Safe was offering $400,000 in in-kind benefits at the plaza. “C&S has indicated that their donations are predicated on not creating direct competition for their District,” a section of downtown that Clean & Safe patrols, Paul wrote. That direct competition? Food carts, which would vie with the Ritz-Carlton pod. Carts still could have gone on the street near the park, Paul’s email indicates, but an official at the Portland Bureau of Transportation “doesn’t see them taking a stand given the strong objection from C&S,” Paul wrote. Director of operations Steve Wytcherley says Clean & Safe has no objections to food carts. It chose an events space to activate the area because events are working at Director Park, which it also helps manage. “We put forth a proposal that best fit our mission,” Wytcherley said.

ETHICS COMMISSION PAUSED FAGAN INVESTIGATION: The Oregon Government Ethics Commissions paused its investigation into former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan months ago, pending a federal criminal investigation into Fagan’s consulting contract with the embattled duo behind the La Mota cannabis chain. WW’s reporting of Fagan’s contract with the co-founders of La Mota led to her resignation last May. The ethics commission had unanimously voted in mid-August to embark on the full investigation after performing a preliminary review. Spokeswoman Susan Myers says the commission “approved a time waiver on all three of Ms. Fagan’s cases to preserve the investigation period until the pending federal criminal investigation was completed or the impediments created by that investigation were lifted.” Roy Kaufman, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Justice, which represents the state agencies involved in the federal investigation, says the Oregon Attorney General’s Office has received no indication the feds have stopped their investigation.

REPORTS OF BIAS CRIME MORE THAN DOUBLED LAST YEAR: New data released by the Portland Police Bureau shows reports of bias crimes in the city skyrocketed last year, easily doubling their 2022 total. That year, there were 55 reports, a number that had held steady since Oregon overhauled its hate crime laws in 2019. But last year, the number shot up to 129. Anti-Black crimes remain the most common. Crimes targeting Jewish people tripled. And police made an arrest in 1 in 3 cases in which they identified a suspect. The most frequent sorts of crimes, according to Police Bureau, were assaults, followed by vandalism. These trends reflect a nationwide rise in hate crimes. A recent draft report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that hate crimes rose 11% in the nation’s 10 largest cities last year. The rise in Portland, however, could be more due to better reporting than an increase in criminal activity. “We are seeing better reporting, which isn’t on accident,” says Sgt. Matt Jacobsen, a detective in the bureau’s major crimes unit. “We’ve worked hard on outreach to impacted communities to educate on bias events and inform on how to report.” As part of a national campaign, the FBI put up billboards at Portland International Airport and along highways across Oregon encouraging people to report hate crimes.

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