A town hall meeting at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) building drew city commissioners to East Portland on Tuesday, July 11, to hear about some of the issues related to lack of investment and attention in that area of the city.
"It's always been treated like the outer edges," says Anita Yap, founder of the Multicultural Collaborative and on APANO's board of directors. "So there's not been a lot of public investment or policy investment from the community."
As development seeps out of the downtown core and into other areas of Portland, causing concern of gentrification and displacement of low-income families, organizations like APANO have been working to balance affordability while still welcoming prosperity and improvement along the corridor. APANO was contracted by Prosper Portland, formerly the Portland Development Commission, to support what's called the Jade District — the area surrounding Southeast 82nd Avenue and Southeast Division Street — as part of a neighborhood initiative.
While students from University of Oregon's architecture program gave presentations of ambitions future visions for the corridor, including for instance, a complete change of the layout of Eastport Plaza to promote walkability, some business owners laid out their concerns of trash and homelessness.
Mayor Ted Wheeler acknowledged the livability concerns, but noted they're not unique.
"Those problems may be exacerbated to some degree on 82nd Avenue, but they are not unique to this neighborhood and wherever we go we hear about these same issues in some combination in greater or lesser degree," he said.
Wheeler said that slowing down traffic there would be good for businesses. The street is part of the city's high crash network for people driving, walking and biking.
Luke Norman, of the Portland Bus Lane Project, said that their group is urging the city to install dedicated transit lanes on outer Southeast Division Street and 82nd Avenue to promote safety and alleviate congestion.
Meanwhile, others continually highlighted a frustration that most of the stretch is classified as a highway rather than a city street, which provokes some design restrictions on developments that might promote business, like parking.
According to Don Hamilton, Oregon Department of Transportation, the state owns and maintains 82nd Avenue, including the stretch from Northeast Killingsworth Street to Sandy Boulevard. There, ODOT owns the street from curb to curb, including sidewalks, while south of Sandy to the Clackamas County line, at about Southeast Flavel Street, the state maintains the road while the city handles the sidewalks.
"We do need to transfer 82nd Avenue," said Mayor Ted Wheeler. "It hasn't happened yet, because there's some tough negotiations and agreements that have to be hammered out between the city and the state — it's not as simple as, hey can you transfer this street, lock, stock and barrel. There's really a negotiation around resources that also has to take place."
ODOT is open to transferring 82nd Avenue to the city, Hamilton says. The state previously handed Interstate Avenue to the city.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the Bureau of Transportation, said that a state transportation package approved by the 2017 Oregon Legislature including $100 million for a transfer of outer Powell to the city, provides a glimmer of hope.
"Hopefully if we can show that we can get it right on outer Powell, we can go back to Legislature and ask them to work with ODOT to make sure there's further resources to deal with other roads like 82nd Avenue," Saltzman said.
Brian Wong, chair of the 82nd Avenue Improvement Coalition, is pushing for the transfer.
"No one benefits at this point," Wong said.
On housing and homelessness, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said that the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, which she oversees, is creating two positions for people who would act as liaisons to neighborhoods on those issues.
She also said she's requested to bring back a small business concierge to the Bureau of Development Services and is aiming improve the permitting process for business owners.
"As a former small business owner, I recognize that those costs and those waiting periods can be the difference between opening a business and not," she said. She operated a bookstore before being elected as a city commissioner.
Wheeler said that parking and traffic are going to continue to be "thorny issues."
"This city will continue to become denser," he said. "82nd Avenue, in 20, 30 years is not going to be seen as 'out here' … nor will it be seen as 'East Portland.' It will be the center of Portland, because geographically it already is."
Yap said the council still has a long way to go to make up for the neglect. She grew up in the area of 82nd Avenue and has observed it become more diverse over the years. She would like to see that representation on City Council.
"There's no person of color on there. Not that they don't advocate for equity, but the representation matters," she said, adding that the town hall was important to get officials out of the downtown area.
"City council has not been out in these areas with us," she said.