The Endorsement Issue: Vote Early and as Often as You Wish

At primary election time I need to endorse something. An email tipped me off to the design contest for the Biketown rental bike system which became the thing that would allow me to sway people’s votes. I’m for any design that removes orange paint from those bikes. That color may offer visibility but my preference would be a shade of neon yellow or green. Now that I get to voice an opinion about what the bikes might look like there’s hope for an eye-catching design in the future.

Each quadrant of the city will have their own look which offers ample voting opportunities. My recommendation is solely focused on North Portland because it’s where I live and the area where I expect to encounter these bikes. After looking over the designs, I’ll admit to being impartial, but I liked those representing North Portland best. I must reiterate, any redesign of the bike’s appearance with multiple colors and patterns will be an improvement over the current orange standard. Now allow me to reveal that The Portland Orbit is whole heartedly in support of and thereby offering its endorsement of the design featuring the prominent use of the image of Paul Bunyan the adopted hometown hero of the Kenton neighborhood since he wandered by in 1959 and decided to stick around. From his head taking over the side of the bike basket, to his checkered shirt and blue painted pants around the seat area, there’s a playfulness that is sure to allow me some mild enjoyment from seeing people riding by on Biketown bikes.

Drawing borrowed for endorsement purposes.

I understand that a design could have represented the whole North Portland area but that probably proved too challenging. Paul is another kind of tourist attraction and for some reason I associate these bikes with tourists so why not let tourists ride on a tourist attraction inspired decorated bike. My impartiality stems from Paul Bunyan being my neighbor. He’s suffer through hard times and had his struggles with soot and peeling paint. Now he’s back, looking a tiny bit on the orange side (all shades of orange are disturbing to me these days) but I have more Paul pride than ever. It would be great to see this feelings reflected on a bike. In the winter when all the leaves have fallen off the trees I’m able to see Paul’s hat pom-pom from our house. That’s the one aspect of the design that may be flawed. I would have liked a pom-pom incorporated into the design but at this point it’s too much to ask the designer to go back to the drawing board.

******

A spin of the globe goes out to Josh G. for letting me know about the design competition.

I heard back from Josh G. that the winners have already been decided. You can find that information here.

 

 

 

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The Art of Noise

Three esoteric reasons combined on April 11, to motivate me to go downtown. There was a Noise Review Board meeting, a PPS art celebration, that made me think I could score some grub to offset my Arts Tax, plus an afternoon protest over a shooting in a homeless shelter called Beds Not Bullets. The Orbit budget only covered a two and a half hour Trimet ticket. Time was tight. I started at City Hall expecting to run into protestors. If I could get through the crowds I would go to the Noise Review Board meeting then the Portland Art Museum. The tear gas and protestors had dissipated. I saw no evidence of a protest. I approached City Hall like I owned the place to find the doors locked. Discovering I was at the employee entrance I stood around until I noticed a sign directing me to the doors on SW 4th Avenue. There were no protesters around this side of City Hall. The early bird protest had me a bit dumbfounded.

I headed into City Hall catching up with two neighbors who were part of my neighborhood association. I sensed the solidarity but being a fair weather meeting attendee I didn’t get a chance to explain why I wouldn’t be there long. Entering City Hall was not as bad as expected. There was a pat down with a magic wand/metal detector but I didn’t have to remove my shoes or empty my pockets. Then we set off to find the Pettygrove Room. The quarters were cramped but it’s hard to imagine most meetings being standing room only like this one.

The Noise Review Board in action.

My interest in the meeting involved the sole agenda item concerning noise levels at the Portland International Raceway. I live near the track. For the most part it’s a live and let live kind of thing. The sounds don’t bother me. Race fans have that need for speed and the voice calling races through the P.A. system creates a feeling of an unknown nostalgia for me when I hear it at our garden plot. At this meeting representatives of an upcoming race were asking for a variance for noise levels. As explained on the City of Portland website, a variance is “for activities that make more noise than our Noise Code allows.” I had recently downloaded a decibel app on my phone which came with a handy chart. My curiosity piqued when I saw that the 115 decibel levels they were asking for are comparable to a rock concert. Beyond that I wanted to know who attends Noise Review Board meetings and see the board members. I imagined them wearing industrial headphones for some reason. None of them did. Other answers I sought related to finding out would happen if noise levels were exceeded and how the sound was measured. I caught the opening remarks of David Sweeney, representing the race promotions company and heard him talk about how excited people would be to have Indy car racing back in Portland and the boost the race would offer the local economy. He discussed how the noise levels would be controlled. Cars exceeding the levels would be taken off the track for adjustments. He explained that test days helped determine the types of tires that would be used in the races.

In the too small meeting room I detected an odor of cologne and Subway sandwiches eaten prior to the meeting. I noticed a photo exhibit in the room, shots of protestors, that were engaging images to mix into the proceedings. Deliberations might have been interesting along with a mix of different perspectives from the testimony but my time with the Noise Review Board was brief. These were a matter of fact bunch, who took on all variations of noise, the majority dealing with construction or race track. The board chairman mentioned people offering oft-repeated testimony could say something like, “it’s already been said,” to speed the meeting along. There was something about the formality that made me nervous. I had been there almost a half an hour and had already eyed the door knob and mentally rehearsed how I would make my exit. The sign on the door said pull but I reminded myself that I would need to pull the handle down first then open the door. Leaving the building, I remembered I wanted to ask the security guard about the protest but I had already gone through the turnstile. The guard was across the lobby talking to a coworker with his back turned. It was time to shift from politics to art.

Since the inception of the Arts Tax, it seemed like a burden to fork over additional money at income tax time. I learned from a crawl on the Channel 12 news that 92 art and music teachers in kindergarten through 5th grade schools were employed with the help of the tax. Working in an elementary school, it would be hard to imagine students without a music or art teacher. I’ve been slowly making my peace with the tax but the 70 bucks I pay for our household takes an annoying bite from our meager budget. This was the first I had heard of any events related to the Arts Tax so I had to check it out.

Arriving at the event space at the Portland Art Museum, I was surprised. The place was packed. Not expecting mobs of art enthusiasts, I weaved through the crowd as the school system Superintendent spoke in the museum’s third floor ball room. He sounded official, enthusiastic and supportive. I was inspired but not sure what to do about it. A video showing drama students going to Seattle to see Hamilton followed. Then more Hamilton. A student stood on a separate stage busting out a Hamilton-style Paul Revere rap. It was as educational as it was engaging but I was in Hamilton overload. Where was the food? This crowd, there were too many people to feed. Heading over to a side wall I spotted the spread on a small table with items covered in cellophane. There was not enough food to feed me much less the massive gathering. Once the food was ready I restrained myself. It wasn’t going to be fair to hog humus. I chewed and stewed then realized I needed to see the art–the fruit of the Arts Tax. The Grant High School Jazz band began. They were hopping. They played me off as I exited for art.

The ballroom crowd reminded me of how supportive people are for the arts in Portland. Having come from the Noise Review Board, I was also reminded that issues get people engaged in civic meetings too. I found the art on the first floor where it occurred to me that these young artists had ideas. There was a piece from each school with an art program. I ran into the art teacher from my school along with the artist and her family. I put the teacher on the spot by asking her if it was hard to choose a piece of art to represent the school. She emphasized the challenge of picking one creation from the work of all the students. The selected art work was neat and organized–a challenge when you’re creating your work in an hour of class time. It stood out from the other work displayed at the school. After a few minutes of trying to capture the image of a seagull sculpture I dashed off to catch the train before my ticket expired.

I arrived home with minutes to spare. After a bit of reflection, I reached two less than serious conclusions about that evening’s events. I doubted that the noise from the race track would ever bother me more than the noise in my own head and I realized that the Arts Tax is a necessary evil especially when it teaches kids about art and how to make it. This won’t stop me from complaining about it. Life will go on and next year I’ll grumble again about making the payment.

Post Script: For anyone wondering about the variance from the April 11, Noise Review Board meeting, I can report that it was approved. I would point you to the hearing’s minutes but they won’t be posted until the Board approves them at their next meeting.

The Foster Files: Some Not So Subtle Pleas to Save Foster Road

While house sitting in the Foster-Powell neighborhood this summer I became fascinated with what looks like a grass-roots campaign spearheaded by a local business taking on the mighty City of Portland. The store caught my interest when I was walking toward it on Foster Road. I was experiencing the neighborhood for the first time. As I walked, I soaked in the area’s atmosphere, looking over the businesses, the side-streets, walking past restaurants and then I saw a building with murals. These were sure to be scenes of old Portland, I thought. When I was close enough I saw that the murals were of a tower and castle which made sense given the business name EuroClassic Furniture. I presented information about my confusion for the Save Foster Road campaign a couple of posts ago. I was concerned about the area with some of the buildings appearing shabby even as I noticed new life in the places I’d passed. The subtitle of the banner declared the cause:  SAVE FOSTER and Keep 4 Driving Lanes.

I have no say in this battle. I don’t know the area but I can sense how change feels threatening and the powerlessness people experience when city leaders make decisions. I understand the side of those responsible for the banner and the signs in the furniture store windows. This is a business that represents itself on-line as a proud family owned establishment that celebrating 80 years in Portland. The window signs reveals as much of the story as any homemade posters can. Their handwritten script with thick and thin lettering has a folk art feel. Capitalized words blare their rally cry. A message addressing councilman Dan Saltzman as “Uncle Dan” urges street plan opponents to call him and it includes a phone number. Another sign expresses the desires of a mysterious Mr. Magoo who “wants Foster to stay just the way it is.” The sign says “we all agree with him!”

Window posters explain that the project is a waste of gas tax money and will “mess up” Foster Road requiring more fuel for cars stuck in traffic back ups while increasing pollution in the area. Another poster warns how jammed traffic will get. Cars will be “backed up for many blocks,” it says. More signs beg for a compromise asking the city to make Foster Road safe without inconveniencing the people who drive on it.

To offer background information let me refer you to information gleaned from a news broadcast that aired May 3, 2016. The project involves reducing Foster Road from four lanes to two with a center turn lane and wide bike lanes. The reporter, speaking in front of EuroClassic Furniture for the late night broadcast, explained that people were, “speaking out and making signs” in protest. With emphasis he pointed to the EuroClassic Furniture window signs noting they were “Bright Neon Green Signs.” I was struck that these signs were written in a block letter style–different from the ones in the windows as of early September of this year. More facts included a mention of 1200 accidents resulting in 8 deaths in the past decade. The Portland Bureau of Transportation estimated that the lane reductions would only increase commute times by three minutes. As a sidenote, I’d be curious to know what physics equation allowed them to make that estimate. The report ended with a quote from then Commissioner Steve Novick who said, “The city is doing it because we want more parts of Portland to be places where it’s safe for kids to walk and bike to school.”

Construction was scheduled to happen way back in 2016 but hasn’t happened yet. It looks like it’s now scheduled for the spring of 2018. It’s not too late to call Uncle Dan.


 

 

 

Air

View from a meeting room.

In my professional video production days I was paid to go to public forums and government meetings. Sometimes you have to do things when there’s no payday involved. On Tuesday, March 7, North Portland community members gathered in a conference room at the Red Lion Inn  for a meeting that concerned a permit for an oil recycling business on Hayden island called American Petroleum Environmental Services or APES for short. It was inevitable that we would make an effort to find out more about area air quality issues since we had been encountering an ongoing chemical odor in our Kenton neighborhood since the days we first moved in eight years ago. I lived with it and listened to the complaints. My running joke was about how sometimes, when the wind was right, we were treated to the scent of cookies from the nearby snack factory. More often the air has been filled with the byproducts of the industrial goings on that lie between the Columbia slough and businesses along Columbia Blvd. The Sunday morning before the meeting, my wife Ronna, had been watching videos about air issues in our vicinity. One showed an infrared image of a smoke stack with waves and bubbles could only represent insane toxins spewing into out atmosphere. The image cried out for some industrial music in the vein of Tone Ghosting in the background. It was scary visualizing what’s going into the air knowing I’d been breathing and smelling that. There were also videos of a woman talking about the situation in the manner of a fireside chat detailing the work of her North Harbor Neighbors group and their concerns with the performance of the State’s Department of Environmental Quality.

In order to set the record straight I thought I’d borrow from the meeting invite posted on Facebook:


Since the public forum, in a general sense, was about air. It had me thinking about the Talking Heads song of the same name. Air has a science fiction feel to the lyrics and the music seems modern and electronic. The overall feeling is someone voicing struggles in a world gone wrong. The narrator says to himself:

What is happening to my skin?
Where is the protection I needed?
Air can hurt you too
Air can hurt you too
Some people say not to worry about the air
Some people never had experience with…
Air…Air

Even when I first heard this song I thought it was a strange topic. I wasn’t sure why someone needed to write a song about air. Talking Head’s singer and songwriter David Bryne has probably never been to Hayden Island. Clear, pollution free air to breath is not something to overlook and even though it’s a strange song subject the reality of polluted air is alarming. It’s worse to smell it and suffer health complications as a result.

The forum gave citizens an opportunity to question DEQ employees and make comments. I wanted to see some government employees taken to task. Any of us would be yelled at by our bosses if we did what these employees did or in this case didn’t do. The moderator was a former high school teacher who presented meeting guidelines in a way that meant he had experience with keeping people in line. His list was meant to prevent the meeting from devolving into chaos or a public flogging. Attendees were encouraged to raise thumbs up or down when reacting to people’s comments which made for a lively and less disruptive participation tool.

The meeting began with questions. Those wanting to ask were given a numbered piece of paper. Mixed in with the questions were asides like:

“I’ve been breathing this crap for two years now and it’ll all poison.”

“This is people’s lives.”

“What’s going in the air?”

“We all get a little riled up about this.”

Some questions revealed that knowledgeable people were familiar with technical aspects of the situation. Hearing about a thermal oxidizer and the company being accused of being a title 5 pollutor, which is scary regardless of what kind of scale we’re talking about, were concepts over my head so I was glad to know some people knew what was going on. It was revealed that there was a tank containing PCBs on the site. I’m not sure what a PCB is but I’ve heard it’s bad stuff. How can anyone be cavalier about carcinogens? The real reporters stood on the sidelines looking bored and waiting for their chance to do their TV work. Things were heating up for me when I realized I have to live with this, or maybe die from it.

It occurred to me that I was onto a hot story although it’s taken me weeks to sort it out. I was hearing things like the DEQ wasn’t testing for all possible contaminates and that a regulatory overhaul wasn’t supposed to happen until next year. Given the circumstances, the pace of the state’s efforts seemed glacial.

Rally ’round the flag!

When Mary Lou Putnam spoke she seemed like a star to me. I had seen her videos and her discussions of what was feeling like a crisis. She pointed out that people were losing trust in government employees. Her question involved when the DEQ was going to do emission testing on the stack. Tied into that had been thoughts on full spectrum testing and 24/7 monitoring.

The DEQ point of view.

Answers were being provided by a DEQ employee with rolled up sleeves. He seemed diplomatic and careful, I’m not implying that he didn’t care but what effort he was making didn’t seem like it could be enough. Even his explanation of a one time testing process that took three hours seemed woefully inadequate. Another DEQ employee explained, “I’m committed to telling you the truth even if it’s something you don’t want to hear.” It occurred to me that people already knew the worst and they seemed like a bunch who could handle the truth.

I liked how an older generation of people felt like tribal elders, with apologies to any actual tribal elders, as they began to skirt the ground rules. There were grumblings and discontented reactions. They were fighting for us. Somewhere in all the questioning an attendee suggested that a grand jury should be impaneled. There were murmured chants of, “shut ’em down.” It felt like they had the authority to tell the state employees what was right. They could have easily blown off the meeting, given up and stayed home with their windows shut, but they didn’t.

Cornerstones of meetings: Notes, Site photos, Timer, Hand outs

Our Kenton neighborhood star Steven Glickman offered to pay for a permit to get a monitor to put on the stack. He had been the first to ask a question and later in the meeting the first to make a comment. He must have gotten there early. I felt lucky to have people with scientific knowledge challenging the DEQ representatives. It held them more accountable and didn’t allow them to hoodwink the audience with circuitous mumbo jumbo. The state was accused of not monitoring “this stuff” because it’s bad for business. One questioner made the point that the DEQ employees feared corporations more than the taxpayers. An insider to the oil recycling business offered up what felt like whistle blower details when he mentioned that he knew workers who left the industry due to fears of getting cancer. It had me hoping that Erin Brockovich was going to walk through the meeting room doors.

I learned that there was a network of groups, coalitions and advisory committees that met and were working for cleaner air often on a voluntary basis. It occurred to me that that anyone who might be partying or playing banjos or even working multiple jobs all while breathing nasty air, well, more power to them, but it’s made me appreciate the people taking their to time to make the effort to clean up out air and bring awareness to the state employees failings. In the end there was talk of more hearings and draft permits that all seemed to amount to government workers working overtime.

Homemade signs fastened with painter’s tape

 

Local coverage:

http://katu.com/news/local/hayden-island-residents-face-off-with-deq-over-air-quality-concerns

Good job Lincoln!