After ‘Emergency Meeting’ Over a Month Ago About Using Expo Center Parking Lot for Sanctioned Car Camping, Little Movement Has Been Made

All three elected officials who publicly put their names on the revived discussions were approaching the May primary.

expo Expo Center. (Bruce Forster/Bruce Forster/Viewfindersnw)

Nearly two months ago, Metro President Lynn Peterson told WW that she had revived talks with City Hall about using a portion of the Expo Center parking lot as a sanctioned car camping spot.

On April 12, Metro staff drew up three potential locations for use. Those locations were slated to be discussed by the appointed body that evaluates plans for the Expo Center, the six-member Metro Exposition Recreation Commission, at its May 4 meeting.

Just one sticking point: The panel didn’t discuss the locations at the May 4 meeting.

One local office that’s involved says it has no updates nor a timeline of further discussions.

Metro spokesman Nick Christensen says: “There is a small group—[MERC chair Karis Stoudamire-Phillips], two MERC commissioners and staff—discussing what we can offer, stakeholder outreach, remaining concerns, and what we will ask for in an intergovernmental agreement. They will need to meet if/when we have an [agreement].”

It’s worth noting that the conversations regarding the Expo site revived just weeks before the primary election. The three elected officials who publicly put their names on the revival were running for reelection. All three either won their races outright or made it to runoffs in the general election in November.

Now, after the primary, discussions appear to have somewhat stagnated. It’s a continuation of the past year of failed negotiations between Metro and city officials over the car camping site.

Nearly a year and a half ago, Commissioner Dan Ryan, who’s spearheading the city’s six tiny pod villages and car camping sites, reached out to Peterson, asking for a chunk of the Expo Center parking lot for a sanctioned car camping site. Metro offered an unpaved gravel lot. The city wanted a paved one. Conversations stalled in the fall. At the time, Ryan told WW he had moved on from the Expo Center idea and was looking forward to working with more generous partners.

Then, this spring, conversations revived. Peterson told WW about an “emergency meeting” with Ryan and City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation, about requesting a portion of the Expo parking lot from MERC.

However, Ryan’s office tells WW that if the site is approved, the money won’t be coming from the safe rest villages budget. That’s because the city has already selected six village sites, including one car camping spot in North Portland. It remains unclear which government, if either, would fund the Expo site if it’s approved by MERC.

“The six sites under the village are funded, which includes our safe park site,” says Bryan Aptekar, a spokesman for the safe rest villages program. “Additional sites would need additional funding.”

That approval, though, seems unlikely at the moment.

Metro staff presented three potential locations to MERC in April. The commission signaled it would discuss those locations at its May 4 meeting. According to notes from that meeting, no such matter was discussed.

Metro spokesman Christensen says discussion of the car camping site is “not yet on the agenda for a future MERC meeting.”

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