Murmurs: News Among the Ruins

  1. Mayor Charlie Hales and City Commissioner Steve Novick are still moving toward a $12-a-month street fee on households and even higher taxes on businesses to raise more money for the Portland Bureau of Transportation. Both have said they may try to get the City Council to approve the fees without putting the question to voters on the November ballot (Murmurs, WW, March 12, 2014). For the first time, two other commissioners, Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman, have said publicly they dislike bypassing voters. “I’m not absolutely convinced we need the street maintenance fee,” Saltzman tells WW. “The Transportation Bureau seems to be falling all over themselves to subsidize a bike-share program. If we have dollars to subsidize bike share, why don’t we have dollars to put in sidewalks and fix up our roads?” City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, as the tie-breaker, tells WW she will wait to see the proposal and listen to the public’s reaction before deciding how to vote.
  1. Preservation advocates trying to save the decaying, 101-year-old Gas and Coke Building—on a polluted site along U.S. Highway 30 just south of the St. Johns Bridge—are making progress (“Wrecking Brawl,” WW, Dec. 18, 2013). They say the building’s owner, NW Natural, has offered it a reprieve from demolition—for a price. “They’re asking for upwards of $2 million,” says Kathy Evans, who’s led the charge to save the Gas and Coke Building. “We have conditionally accepted.” Evans adds the agreement would leave the building standing as a ruin, cleaned up but with no visitors allowed inside. NW Natural spokeswoman Melissa Moore confirms negotiations are ongoing. “If it were left up to us, we would, for many reasons, be taking it down,” Moore says of the building. “But we are giving this group an opportunity to save it if they can raise the funds.”
  1. As if East Portland needed more disappointment from City Hall: In 2009, the city’s East Portland Action Plan set 269 goals, ranging from bike lanes to cleaning up brownfields. But in a report released April 23, City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade says the five-year window to keep these promises is closing, and funding is likely to disappear. “We found there are too many identified actions to be achieved within the plan’s ambitious timelines,” the deputy city auditors on her staff write. Officials overseeing the plan say they’ll narrow their focus to 29 priorities. But Griffin-Valade warns that the city’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement still hasn’t written a strategy for wrapping up its work. “One silver lining,” says director of audit services Drummond Kahn, “is that the plan brought increased focus and funding to East Portland.”

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