Ever since the St. Johns Neighborhood Association board changed hands to several new members who express anti-houseless sentiments their meetings have been writhe with contention for their every decision or attempted change of the status quo.

February’s meeting was the more of the exact same situation. The meeting held at the St. Johns Community Center started promptly at 7 pm. A partial recording of the meeting is provided below. 

Board member Mike Vial addressed the perception that the SJNA had an anti-homeless attitude. “We aren’t trying to be anti-homeless”, he said “we are just trying to address the concerns of neighbors”.

Safety concerns and public safety was one of the first topics of the evening, and several members voiced their concerns about how they feel uncomfortable with the houselessness situation in the area and further attributed most crime in the area to the houseless of St. Johns. Next, SJNA Board Chair Marisa Peters provided a public service announcement about the dangers of human and sex trafficking in the Portland area and suggested members educate themselves further.

Next thing addressed was concerns that members had that only the SJNA board members and not the rest of the community were invited to a meeting with Robert King, senior policy advisor for Mayor Ted Wheeler, about the houseless situation in St. Johns and the board’s concerns about the outreach and harm reduction organization Portland People’s Outreach Project. When asked why community members were excluded Peter responded that the decision was that of King’s and not the SJNA’s. She explained that there will be a follow-up meeting in 30 days.

The next agenda item was a committee report given by member Liza deGlee. The main thing mentioned was that neighbors are still concerned about the area near where PPOP distributes their harm reduction supplies. The SJNA is working to address those issues, they said.

Gloria Luzader, the board’s Safety and Livability chair shared that the next month’s NA meeting would feature this election cycle’s District Attorney candidates, and would take questions from the members and provide answers for the group. 

Land use updates were provided by board member Vial. He mentioned that the NA is currently looking for a Spanish translator and interpreter for future projects so they can be more inclusive to those St. Johns residents whose second language is English. He further mentioned there is a redevelopment of an 18-unit apartment and several projects like the Lombard Multimodal Safety Project and Oregon Department of Transportation‘s I-5 project in the works.

Next Peter took time to announce that the NA is planning several local clean-ups for the area and that they would be held on May 30th and April 25th. There is another clean-up planned by homeless advocates for along the Peninsula Crossing bike trail that was not mentioned by Peter on Sunday, Feb. 16th.

The unfinished business section of the agenda was the longest of the agenda points for the meeting. Vial led that part and the first thing mentioned was the attempted bylaw changes. Previously SJNA tried to change the membership requirement for individuals to provide a physical address. This change was completely dropped once Vial was shown by research from Village Portland that the laws had changed. The new wording for that was actually “contact information” which can simply include an email address. This was found acceptable by advocates who felt the group was trying to silence the houseless residents of St. Johns voices. 

The other changes made to the bylaw redrafting we minor and mostly grammatical in nature, according to Vial. There were several other bylaw changes that were questioned by attendees like TJ Parker, a concerned resident who believes the SJNA is being overly aggressive and rushing the bylaw changes. One of the major issues voiced by Parker and other members was that there was no requirement for board members to attend all meetings including general assembly, monthly, and board meetings. The grievance process for board members and the way it was structured was also mentioned as being a concern for members. 

The bylaw changes have been a major issue for the SJNA for several months and the revisions have been highly contended while the group has attempted to pass them. Due to several members feeling the bylaw changes were being rushed by the NA, it was rejected due to the inability to get at least two-thirds of the voting member’s approval.

There were several tense moments during this portion of the meeting including board member * Rachel Day getting frustrated with those opposing the changes and yelling “get a life” at one of them and Safety and Livability board member Luzader getting up from her seat and walking over to get into Parker’s face to yell at him. This incident was concluded after an attempt by Peter to get Luzader to sit back down. Afterward, Luzader walked by this journalist while asking Vial “can I just kill him?”

* Editor’s note: We regret that there was a mis-attribution in the original version.

“The groups attempts to pass little changes within their bylaws is highly troubling” stated Parker. Others in attendance further went on to express that Luzader behavior was not acceptable as a member of the NA and that she should be removed.

This part of the meeting was concluded after Vial called for a revote and it was rejected again for lacking to get a majority voting approval. Vial later stated on Facebook that any further attempts to change the bylaws will not go forward and the whole process will be dropped besides the changes to the ‘address’ requirement as to reflect the new law of only “contact information” being needed.

Editor’s note: Based on feedback from Donna Cohen, we retooled / struck through some editorializing language in the reporting and included a direct quote from Cohen. We also added how to learn more about the STEM advocacy work at Roosevelt High School.

The final agenda point for the evening was an update on the attempt to get proper facilities at Roosevelt High School for STEM programs made by Donna Cohen beginning @ about 57:15. She again overlooked the attempts to have arts included alongside science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. When asked why her response was, “they have a strong enough arts program, they don’t need help”.

This reporter asked about a movement to include the arts with STEM.

The point behind attempting to include arts is to increase advocacy for these programs, advocates contend. Cohen seemed to be unable to grasp that concept.

Cohen responded: “The thing to know is that Roosevelt has a full arts program. They don’t have a full STEM program. That’s why we have to focus on that.”

She added that when the school’s remodel was done, they had arts advocates participating. But when they remodeled the STEM work space, she said it was neglected.

A bond is going to fund a new building at Roosevelt, and Cohen said they are looking for more advocates to make sure proper STEM work space is allocated in it. Find out more about the effort here, or reach Cohen here.

After running over their allotted time by several minutes the NA meeting was adjourned.


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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