By MARGO CRAIG

The St. Johns Neighborhood Association voted against retracting letters sent by the board of directors in October 2019 urging partners of the St. Johns Village Project to drop plans for new transitional housing on an empty church lot.

Construction on the tiny house village started this week.

A member had filed a grievance over the letters, claiming that the board did not properly consult or notify the association of the letters. 

One neighbor took issue with what they called a “back room” procedure. “I feel that my opinion has been co-opted by people for their personal agenda”. Another noted the letters have valid concerns but also “problematic hyperbole”.

“The letters were from the board, not the neighborhood,” board director, Colette Peck, wrote in the meeting chat.

At the time, all fifteen of the SJNA board of directors had just been elected, and each one ran on a platform opposing the village project. Soon after the election, the board sent letters to the Joint Office of Homeless Services, Do Good Multnomah and the St. Johns Christian Church urging them to halt the Village Project or face legal action.

“We urge you to reconsider your involvement with this project and spare all of us the unpleasantness that will result if you decide to ignore the prevailing opinion of the neighborhood,” the board wrote to Do Good Multnomah, a homeless shelters and services nonprofit. 

The board also sent a letter to the St. Johns Center for Opportunity lambasting its role in planning the Village Project and its support for the Portland People’s Outreach Project, PPOP, a group that distributes clean drug-use paraphernalia and overdose prevention supplies in the neighborhood. “Sadly, it appears that SJCO has decided to dedicate itself to actively harming our neighborhood,” the board wrote.

Representatives from PPOP filed a formal grievance with the City about concerns with process regarding those letters.

Responding to questions about the meeting, SJNA chair Mike Vial said an agreement was reached that led to the vote at the meeting:

SJNA voted not to retract the letters by one vote, with 20 members opposed and 19 in favor. To be eligible to vote, members needed to attend at least one of the two latest SJNA meetings, which disqualified several votes in favor. Neighbors complained they weren’t notified of the last SJNA meetings, which were held virtually.

In his response to questions about the meeting, Vial also said the board tried to change the rules regarding voting as part of a broad package of reforms, but it was rejected by the membership.

At the meeting, SJNA members voted in favor of joining the Neighborhood Association Joint Statement on Homelessness (21 in favor, 10 opposed) which asks the City to use some of the affordable housing funds to make designated, monitored camps in each neighborhood short-term solutions for homelessness.

New board directors will be nominated in the next SJNA meeting on October 12. Most of the current directors are not running for reelection, Vial said.

Candidate forum

Candidates running in Multnomah County Elections this November introduced themselves and answered questions. SJNA heard from incumbent Mayor Ted Wheeler and opponent Sarah Iannorone, City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly and opponent Mingus Mapps, and two candidates running for a rare vacancy on the Multnomah County Circuit Court, Rima Ghandour, a civil lawyer, and Assistant U.S. Attorney, Adrian Brown.

Mayor’s race

Candidates running for Mayor answered questions about police and community distrust, housing insecurity and business revival.

Mayor Wheeler, who is also the police commissioner, said “many are wondering if Portland can be saved”. Wheeler acknowledged that the police need “fundamental reform”.

Wheeler pointed to actions he’s taken that he argued are rebuilding community trust, such as a 19-point plan, “11 of which are either completed or underway”, legislative changes made under his tenure and the Portland Street Response pilot program, a team of a first responder and a social worker sent to non-emergency calls rather than police officers.

Moving forward, Wheeler wants to focus on hiring, training, and getting the community “fundamentally involved”.

Iannarone jabbed back and asked voters to consider a different question: “Is Portland on the right track?” Iannarone continued, “Put the incumbent’s claims about building trust against what you see on the streets… “it’s clear he doesn’t have the police force under control. They have essentially gone rogue”.

Iannarone said she would make City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty the Police Commissioner, “come at this from a community-centered model”, and give Portlanders a clearer path to calling first responders that are not the police. “If the Mayor’s response were working then we wouldn’t see these nightly protests.”

The candidates detailed their plans for how to manage the current and impending housing crisis, how they will handle rent forgiveness, shore up displacement prevention and affordable housing, and balance short and long-term solutions to homelessness with public health and safety. 

As for business recovery, Wheeler argued his swift action in response to the pandemic is protecting Portland’s businesses. He said he is working to counter Amazon‘s stronghold on internet purchases with a web platform that allows Portlanders to order local goods online.

Iannarone, who’s own SE restaurant closed because of the pandemic, said her experience as a small business owner would be valuable in the Mayor position to get “resources deployed equitably to capital and technical assistance.” She posited that the city could devise it’s own “pop-up delivery services” to compete with services like GrubHub and Postmates.

Commissioner’s race

The City Commissioner candidates discussed similar topics. A neighbor complained to Incumbent Commissioner Eudaly that the Portland Bureau of Transportation in her portfolio had not adequately addressed dangerous traffic in North Portland.

Eudaly pointed to safety measures installed on certain high crash corridors in the area that had been successful. “I certainly thought that the community was happier than what you are expressing now so i invite you to contact my office,” she answered.

As for police misconduct, Eudaly said at times, it feels like the police have gone “rogue.” She said, “our entire council is very concerned about the treatment of protestors,” arguing that the city must “transform” PPB, but unfair union contract terms have prevented City Council from achieving meaningful reform.

“We can’t have a police bureau unleashing on a majority peaceful crowd because a few people are breaking the law. It is a tough challenge to address.”

Opponent Mingus Mapps said he would take “common practice” steps like banning rubber bullets, tear gas and chokeholds. “Is the police department out of control? Let me say, I am disappointed.”

Mapps, a Black man, said he would take advantage of the opportunity to renegotiate the police union’s contract. “We are about to redraw that contract and it’s important for Black men to be at the table.” The Portland Police Association, PPB’s union, endorses Mingus Mapps and donated $15,000 to his campaign.

The judge’s race

The candidates for the open judge’s seat were asked if the pandemic changes how they think justice can be administered. “Is court a building or a process?”

Brown made a detailed case for opening the clogged system up to virtual proceedings and extending courtroom hearings to virtual platforms. “Court is a place where people go to have grievances resolved and it is also a place of last resort.” 

Ghandour, who works in the downtown courthouse often, described how she coordinated efforts to make the courthouse more physically accessible, but agreed that technology can improve efficiency and accessibility.

The candidates were asked to explain how their careers in different courts prepare them to serve on the Multnomah County Circuit Court. Ghandour runs a private firm in Portland, specializing in construction defect, personal injury, product liability and business litigation in Portland. She said she understands how the busy Multnomah County courthouse works, explaining that judges tend to get assigned to departments based on experience. “You don’t get to decide on cases you are familiar with over the years. It is busy and important to know how to work from day 1.”

Brown, who works for the assistant U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon, said she has worked with prosecution and defense on both civil and criminal cases. Experience with criminal cases, Brown said, separates her from Ghandour. “What’s important is understanding the humanity and complexity behind each case,” she said. “Do I need to learn some road signs and know how they work procedurally? Sure.”

Brown brought the federal justice use of force case against the Portland Police Bureau which led to a settlement to reform how police officers interact with people exhibiting symptoms of mental crisis. The settlement made changes in PPB policy, training, officer oversight and accountability, crisis intervention, mental health services, and employee information systems. It went into effect in 2014.

In February 2020, the federal government ruled PPB had reached “substantial compliance” with the settlement terms. Local advocacy groups disagreed.