Commissioner Carmen Rubio Suspends City Inspections of Restaurant Odor Complaints

More fallout from the closure of Pho Gabo includes response from five Vietnamese state legislators.

Commissioner Carmen Rubio. (Brian Burk)

Responding to outcry over the February closure of Pho Gabo on Northeast Fremont Street, a story first revealed by WW, City Commissioner Carmen Rubio has directed the Bureau of Development Services to immediately suspend the inspection of odor complaints tied to food establishments.

“Commissioner Rubio is very concerned and is raising serious questions about the negative impacts of this policy,” says Jillian Schoene, Rubio’s chief of staff.

Pho Gabo closed Feb. 3 after an 18-month back-and-forth with BDS. A persistent neighbor complained that the neighborhood “smelled like a wok dish,” triggering a dozen visits by city inspectors, fines, calls for a $40,000 air filtration system, and eventually the restaurant’s closure. Last week, trade and community groups spoke out against the city’s odor codes and the closure of the small business.

After WW’s story ran Feb. 24, Rubio’s office met with Pho Gabo owner Eddie Dong and launched an evaluation of the city codes in order to make recommendations on changes. The next step, per state zoning laws, would be for those recommendations to be evaluated by the Planning Commission and then go to the City Council for final approval, Schoene says.

“While the timing is dependent on several internal and external factors, including public comment, the commissioner’s goal is to see the code changes happen as soon as possible,” Schoene says.

Five Vietnamese American state legislators also issued a statement this morning about the closure of Pho Gabo. Reps. Daniel Nguyen (a Lake Oswego restaurateur), Hai Pham, Thuy Tran, Hoa Nguyen and Khanh Pham signed their names to the press release, applauding Rubio’s directive to pause action on restaurant-related odor complaints.

“As elected leaders within the Vietnamese community, we believe the closure of Pho Gabo sets a dangerous precedent and sends a troubling message about the value placed on cultural diversity within Portland.

“We believe that, as currently written and enforced, the city’s odor code is discriminatory and not objective by any known standards, leaving out certain, minority-owned small businesses. We stand ready to work with Commissioner Rubio and ensure that city code is fair and reasonable so the city of Portland retains the vibrant food culture celebrating our diverse community.”

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