There was a packed agenda and an equally packed community center in St. Johns for the December 2019 meeting of St Johns Neighborhood Association.

Listen to audio from the meeting in the video above.

There were 27 members at the meeting, and from a rough count, there seemed to be just as many non-members present too.

One of the most contested topics of the evening was a changing of bylaws proposed by SJNA land use chair Mike Vial that would result in any individual that was unable to provide an address from being an “active member” of the NA. This was reacted to by several local houselessness advocates at the meeting. They demanded that the meeting be adjourned prematurely.

After that was voted down by the majority of members, the concerns by those advocates were voiced. Their statements were met with opposition and several attempts to quiet them by Vial and the board chair Marisa Peter.

Editor’s note: SJNA leadership wanted to point out that unhoused neighbors of St. Johns can use St. Johns Center for Opportunity as their mailing address— giving them the mailing address the SJNA wanted for the new membership rules.

The advocates believed that this changing of their bylaws is to silence the voices of the houseless residents of St. Johns. This isn’t the first time a neighborhood association has attempted this. Previously the Overlook Neighborhood Association attempted this and the City threatened to not recognize them any further. According to the reporting on that situation, the Lents NA also attempted to do so a year before Overlook.

Despite threats by the city of not being recognized as a legitimate NA Overlook made the changes to their bylaws anyway. However, Lents did not and still doesn’t require an address to be an “active member” in their bylaws.

“It’s a direct attempt to silence the houseless of this neighborhood” stated Benji Vuong who was one of the main advocates who spoke out against the proposed changes. “The SJNA thought they could sneak this by the people of this neighborhood without notice and if we didn’t speak up, they would have passed the changes tonight” Vuong volunteers with several local outreach groups in St. Johns and many others across Portland.

Representatives from the SJNA said that the proposed change has been posted on their website for almost a month.

The next SJNA meeting will be on January 13th from 7 pm – 8:30 pm at the St. Johns Community Center (8427 N. Central St.). For more information on the meeting, visit the SJNA website linked above. Also visit the website to learn more about the SJNA and get involved with the organization.

There is a special meeting planned for Thursday, December 19th from 7 pm – 8 pm at the St. Johns Community Center. “The brief meeting will discuss one topic: Nomination for Special Committee – Grievance.  It is open to the public.

In other happenings at the meeting, a representative from 2020 Census gave a presentation.

The 2020 census is a decennial census and will be conducted in March. The census bureau is also in the midst of a giant hiring wave for census takers. The recent growth of the state of Oregon could result in an extra congressional seat if properly captured. Federal funding for states is also determined from the results of the census. Furthermore, the 2020 census is one of the most underfunded censuses for over a decade.

The removal of the Trump administration’s citizenship question on the census was beneficial because it would have been majorly compromising for the census and could have resulted in a drastic undercount for states that have a large population of undocumented immigrants.  

The next agenda topic for the meeting was a presentation by Portland Fire & Rescue Station 22 – St. Johns. The presentation focused on fire safety during the winter season and fire hazards could be seen during this time of year that might not be seen year-round. Making sure your personal fireplace has been properly cleaned and that Christmas lights are working properly were two of the main things they mentioned to check. 

A group called Friends of Frog Ferry was next to present about their work in St. Johns. For three years, Friends of Frog Ferry has advocated for a ferry system to be established in St. Johns. The goal of the group is to “create a safe and sustainable river-friendly passenger ferry service”. 

Citing research reports by PBOT and other transportation authorities from around the country, Friends of Frog Ferry believes that St. Johns both qualifies for a ferry system and is in need of one. The group was unable to obtain an cost estimate from the City and is working to figure that out. The group shared their objectives of creating the new transit system and building an emergency response service into it.

The group shared what they envision how the ferry would be able to provide transit up and down the rivers surrounding Portland. They estimate an average ticket to cost somewhere around $5.50 from Vancouver to Portland.

The group hopes the system will provide transportation on the rivers from Vancouver all the way to Oregon City if feasible. The group claims to have over 1,500 supporters for the project, the majority of those being individuals. Frog Ferry hopes to be established fully by the spring of 2023.

The SJNA took the time to share updates that have occurred since their last meeting. Land use and the restrictions on construction on building affordable housing was one of the main topics explored during this time. The residential infill project was mentioned and that a public hearing about the project will be presented at City Council in January. The SJNA hopes to also have representation from the City sent to speak about it at a future meeting of the neighborhood association. 

The topic of properly funding and supporting STEM programs in schools and the fact that there are few girls being attracted to these programs was one of the next topics spoke on. This agenda topic seemed to skip over the progressive movement to get the arts represented in educational programs and not just science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and instead be known as STEAM programs.

Like the Frog Ferry project, other aspects of the waterways around St. Johns were explored. The work of the Columbia Slough Watershed Council was shared and information about what they do was passed out. 

The next agenda item shared was that St. Johns like many neighborhoods of Portland has a cleanup program planned in the near future for 2020. How that might be funded and what the prospective dates will be can be obtained via SJNA’s website.


Cory Elia is a journalist, photographer, videographer, documentary director & producer, radio personality & podcaster. His journalistic focus is on politics, protest, and poverty.

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