Sanderson, 50, owns Odango Hair Studio in the Woodstock neighborhood. When she spoke out against Mayor Charlie Hales and City Commissioner Steve Novick's plan in May to tax Portlanders millions to pave city roads, officials invited her to serve on the citizen work group drafting an improved version of the transportation fee.
Hales and Novick revealed the latest version of the fee Nov. 10, starting the clock for a City Council vote Dec. 3. The new plan, expected to raise $46 million a year, is anchored by an income tax as high as $900 a year and a business fee that tops out at $144 a month for the biggest hotels and hospitals.
Petroleum lobbyist Paul Romain says he and his allies plan to collect signatures to send the fee to voters. Sanderson says she'll help.
WW: How did you become the leader of the street-fee rebellion?
Ann Sanderson: Six months ago, I honestly don't think I could have reliably named all of the Portland City Council members. I wandered into one of the Portland Bureau of Transportation's town halls thinking it was going to be a presentation on bike paths. Instead, they were presenting a horribly regressive tax based on imaginary numbers. The next couple of weeks, I asked everyone I knew if they'd heard about this "street fee." No one had. On my way home from another forum, I called one of my fellow neighborhood business owners from the car, and together we created the "Stop Portland Street Fee" page on Facebook.
If you're fighting the street fee, how did you end up on a city committee?
I'd been interviewed several times whenever the press needed a quote from "opponents of the street fee." A staffer at PBOT called me and asked if I would like to be on the work group for businesses. I was excited to be asked to be part of the process. I thought for them it was probably just a matter of wanting to keep their enemies closer, but part of me really wanted to believe that they put me on the committee to help find a good solution.
Were you really looking for a solution?
I'm not an anti-tax conservative. I genuinely left that first meeting feeling like we as a committee were really going to do something great. When I said as much on the "Stop Portland Street Fee" Facebook page, I took a lot of crap. People suggested that I was just getting played by the politicians and somehow I would be less of an advocate because I'd been roped in.
What was the biggest surprise about serving on a government committee?
Since this was my first time doing something like this, I didn't even know the proper etiquette for getting recognized. Apparently, it's setting your name placard on end until you are called on. But it seriously felt like they were just making up the numbers. At every meeting, there was a new rate sheet. I started joking that when this was all over, I would wallpaper my office with them.
Where did you and city officials break ranks?
I really believe money just means something different to them. At one point, Gary Corbin, PBOT's paid consultant, was sitting behind me and—knowing full well that I own a hair salon—said something to the effect that a new structure would raise the fee barbershops and hair salons would pay from just a few dollars a month to over $25 a month. Then he added, "But what is that, a couple of haircuts?" A couple of haircuts? To me, a couple of haircuts is a couple of hours on my feet.
So why not come up with a better idea?
We couldn't come up with an amazing solution, because we were never asked to. Instead, the PBOT staff threw ideas at us. If one person agreed with them, it was taken for consensus. But if four people disagreed with them, it was deemed not to be a majority of the group and discarded. When the report is published, this work group will be blamed for a funding mechanism we neither created nor voted on.
Isn't this version better?
It's still a bad tax. But it's nowhere near as bad as what they started with. Had there not been public input, it would have been much worse. I still don't think the city has shown that they have skin in the game. We asked them to dedicate money from the general fund, and they didn't.
Why keep arguing about this?
I started fighting the street fee because it was a badly designed tax that would have hurt many people if it had been implemented as presented back in May. I keep going because now it's a matter of respect for the people of this city. We Portlanders are an unwieldy bunch, but we can be trusted to do the right thing. If we must have a tax to repair streets long neglected by city government, then let them come up with their best plan and let the people weigh in. When you want that much money, you should be asking for it, not just taking it.