Amanda Fritz's blog

Let it go, Oregonian Editorial Board

  • Posted on: 3 January 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

From today's Oregonian, commenting on Erik Sten's impending departure from the Portland City Council and his contributions to our city:

"Publicly financed elections, on the other hand, is a non-solution to what is, in Portland at least, a non-problem. Portland has budgeted $1.8 million for candidates to spend on their 2008 election campaigns.

In the disastrous 2006 go-round of the system, several candidates were accused of improprieties, one still owes the city more than $100,000 in misspent funds and one man was sentenced to jail for cheating on candidate nominating petitions. Worst of all, though, Portland's taxpayers now are forced to pay for the campaigns of people they would never otherwise support."

Obviously, to the well-connected people on the Editorial Board, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to seek to serve Portlanders by being elected to the City Council is a "non-problem". I am here to tell you that it is a problem.

"Several candidates" were accused? One was found guilty. Was it ten of us who participated flawlessly? I forget the number, because the media harped on the problems, not on the successes. But you know what? Portlanders remember good deeds. I am hugely encouraged by the responses of friends I didn't know I had, as I collected donations to qualify for Public Campaign Financing again. People care. Portlanders get it. We know the political system with traditional fundraising is broken, and we are working with Public Campaign Financing to fix it.

"Forced to pay"? Each taxpayer contributes less than the cost of a cup of coffee. Regular coffee, not expensive stuff. Too bad the Oregonian's editorial board doesn't believe giving hardworking citizens a chance to affect our future is worth the investment.


  • Posted on: 31 December 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Last day of the year, last Oregon Ducks football game due to start in a few minutes. I am grateful for all the fun we had watching college football this year. And that I can take a break to watch the bowl game, with my son Maxwell.

If he gets out of bed, that is. Ah, the joys of being nineteen, home from college, and making the most of every evening and night.

Next Up at City Council, 1/2/08 - 1/3/08

  • Posted on: 30 December 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Around the corner and into the New Year!

This first Portland City Council Agenda of 2008 has a number of interesting items. As the slim pickings recently in postings on this blog indicate, however, I don't have much capacity for the detailed reviews of the Council calendar I've provided for the past year.

Yes, this blog just passed its one year anniversary! I've learned a lot through writing it and reading comments, and I thank everyone who has contributed.

So, for the next five months at least, my plan is to post the link to the upcoming week's Agenda here each weekend, and highlight just one item on it that I find interesting. It won't be the comprehensive coverage regular readers are used to, but that strategy will at least provide an easy way for you to view the topics, and a forum for discussion if readers notice other issues that citizens should be aware of.

This week:

THURSDAY, 2:00 PM, JANUARY 3, 2008

TIME CERTAIN: 2:00 PM - Accept report Improving Bicycle Safety in Portland outlining initial City policy improvements and engineering enhancements undertaken to increase bicycle safety in response to recent tragic bicyclist fatalities (Previous Agenda 1519; Resolution introduced by Commissioner Adams)

This item was previously scheduled for a Wednesday evening hearing in December, but was postponed because one of the Councilmen was sick and two absent, so there wasn't a quorum. It's unfortunate something so important to citizens has been re-assigned to a hearing during the work day, when many concerned Portlanders cannot participate. The City Code currently allows evening meetings only on the third Wednesday. I would like to see it amended to allow or even require an evening hearing every week.

The Report (pdf) is linked to the Agenda. Easy access to the information under discussion is another good step forward since the Auditor's Office began providing links to ordinance and resolution language earlier this year - partly in response to requests from bloggers, including me. This 26-page report notes that the incidence of bicycle crashes overall has decreased, even as six fatalities were suffered in 2007 and while over 14,000 cyclists cross the four main bicycle bridges downtown each weekday. Lots more interesting information in easy-to-read format with graphs and other illustrations, in the report.

A courageous woman

  • Posted on: 27 December 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, was assassinated today. She could have elected to stay away from her home country, living a life of luxury lecturing in Europe and the Americas. She chose to return to Pakistan to challenge the military rule of President Pervez Musharraf.

CNN reports: "Benazir Bhutto was the first female prime minister of Pakistan and of any Islamic nation. She led Pakistan from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993 to 1996. In a September 26 interview on CNN's "The Situation Room," Bhutto said she expected threats against her life as she prepared to lead a push for the restoration of democracy in Pakistan.

"After military dictatorship an anarchic situation developed, which the terrorists and Osama (bin Laden) have exploited," she told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "They don't want democracy, they don't want me back, and they don't believe in women governing nations, so they will try to plot against me.

"But these are risks that must be taken. I'm prepared to take them," she said. Bhutto narrowly escaped injury on October 18 when a suicide bombing near her convoy in Karachi killed 126 people.

"Soon thereafter, I was asked by authorities not to travel in cars with tinted windows -- which protected me from identification by terrorists -- or travel with privately armed guards," she wrote for in November.

"I began to feel the net was being tightened around me when police security outside my home in Karachi was reduced, even as I was told that other assassination plots were in the offing.""

And yet she stayed.

I saw Benazir Bhutto speak at the Cambridge Union Society debating hall, in 1976 or 1977. She was finishing up her degree at Oxford, and even in her early 20s was considered a political world leader. I went to the Union Society debates for three years, and don't remember another speaker as charismatic or compelling -- although perhaps significantly, I can't recall her topic. I've followed her rises and falls over the decades with interest, and now feel sad her life is over.

Maya Angelou said,

"I am convinced that courage is the most important of all the virtues.
Because without courage, you cannot practice any other virtues consistently.
You can be kind for a while; you can be generous for a while;
you can be just for a while, or merciful for a while, even loving for a while.
But it is only with courage that you can be
persistently and insistently kind and generous and fair."

And Mark Twain wrote,

"Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it."

She wasn't perfect. But Benazir Bhutto was a courageous woman.

Council Crest on Christmas Day

  • Posted on: 26 December 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

It began snowing at our house, at about 650' on the slopes of Mount Sylvania, just before noon. The timing was perfect to lighten the mood as we scrambled to clean the house (how come the vacuum cleaner always breaks down at the most crucial time?) while preparing the feast. Wonderful. I hope you had a delightful day.

Santa's Portland Convergence

  • Posted on: 24 December 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

I regret to report that as of 9:45 a.m. on Christmas Eve, our home is woefully unprepared for Santa (or anyone else) to visit. We put the lights up the weekend after Thanksgiving, as usual, but the stockings aren't yet hung, the fridge isn't stocked, and vacuuming and cleaning remains on the To Do list. But all will be well. Maxwell "Younger Son" and I are about to head out into the crowds to shop. Ali has taken on the job of housekeeping while I am campaigning, and my dear parents-in-love who are coming for Christmas dinner have long practiced forgiving my shortcomings.

Merry Christmas, readers.

Funny and true

  • Posted on: 21 December 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

This column by Mikel Kelly in The Times of Tualatin/Tigard/Sherwood, describes the writer's dismay at discovering a trip from SW Portland to Milwaukie that takes 20 minutes by car, requires more than two hours on TriMet. It's an entertaining read, with a serious message.

We need better bus service.

Next Up at City Council, 12/19/07

  • Posted on: 17 December 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

The Portland City Council Agenda for December 19 includes an evening hearing:

1519 TIME CERTAIN: 6:00 PM - Accept report Improving Bicycle Safety in Portland outlining initial City policy improvements and engineering enhancements undertaken to increase bicycle safety in response to recent tragic bicyclist fatalities (Resolution introduced by Commissioner Adams)

The Council may hold evening hearings every third Wednesday of the month, but rarely chooses to do so. I'm glad to see this important topic covered at a time when more citizens can participate.

The first item on Wednesday's Consent Agenda:

*1489 Allow City Council to hold its regular meeting and recessed sessions at Jefferson High School on January 16 and 17, 2008 (Ordinance; waive Code Section 3.02.010)

Good to see. The Council should hold meetings in the community more often, and regularly.

A more worrisome Consent item:

1500 Amend contract with Portland Streetcar, Inc. to provide additional professional services for project management and vehicle engineering services for production of a domestically manufactured streetcar (Ordinance; amend Contract No. 37119)

The ordinance increases the payment to Portland Streetcar, Inc., by $184,398, as number six in a list of findings that doesn't seem to me to relate to numbers one through five. And then the accompanying "whereas" list contains a convoluted series of contract takeaways and givebacks that will make most citizens' heads spin.

Another big ticket item on Consent:

*1503 Authorize two subrecipient contracts for $338,043 for winter housing services for homeless women and provide for payment (Ordinance)

Housing is part of the City's core mission and responsibility. A caring society helps people who would otherwise be outside in this cold, nasty weather. Jack Bog's blog notes today that operating expenses per capita of the Bureau of Housing and Community Development has fallen, relative to spending in other bureaus.

I don't see much controversy on the short Regular Agenda, other than the Wednesday evening bicycle issue. This item makes me wonder:

*1515 Accept a donation of $1,575,000 from the Portland Parks Foundation on behalf of an anonymous donor for the development of South Park Block 5 (Ordinance)

It's A Good Thing that we have the Parks Foundation to solicit and broker philanthropic donations, which then become tax-deductions for donors. And certainly, whoever is giving this large chunk of change could have chosen not to. But let's remember that sometimes, affluent donors can afford to give because they've made money on the backs of working people. I posted Who's paying for the new park on Block 5 in the South Park blocks back in August, and subsequently commented about Public philanthropy, private debts. I don't know who's giving this $1,575,000 donation. I wonder whether some of the money was accumulated because of tax breaks for downtown development, if not from underpaying janitors. These thoughts could be groundless. I've certainly experienced the benefit of completely wonderful philanthropists giving to the Holly Farm Park and other parks in Portland, with money earned and multiplied by open investments. I hope this donation comes from a source like that. Let's remember, too, that over $2 million for this new park is coming from City taxpayers.

Bridgeton Neighborhood Association rocks

  • Posted on: 16 December 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

The Bridgeton Neighborhood Association has a proud history and recent successes in effecting positive changes in Bridgeton, a neighborhood between Marine Drive and the Columbia River, near the airport in North Portland. Portland Parks & Recreation's City Nature manager David McAllister does good work, too. And the worthy folks at the Peninsula Drainage District No. 2 also listen and think. Read about the Bridgeton Neighborhood Association's latest struggles to save trees on the Columbia River levee in today's Oregonian article by Anna Griffin.

I wondered about the final line in the article, stating Bridgeton is the smallest neighborhood in Portland, with about 600 residents. So I did a little checking. There are just over 300 residences in Bridgeton. In area and number of homes, Woodland Park is smaller, with 97 houses and about 300 people. And Healy Heights in SW Portland is even smaller, with only 70 or so homes and fewer than 150 people. There has been much debate over the years about the desired size of Neighborhood Associations. Some in Portland are bigger than many Oregon cities - Centennial, with over 7,000 households and 20,000 residents, for example. There are advantages and disadvantages connected with different sized Neighborhood Associations. While some critics would like to require uniformity, study after study has recommended continuing to allow Neighborhood Associations to choose their own boundaries. Anyway, now you know, Bridgeton is currently the third smallest Neighborhood Association. Sure to come up in a holiday Trivial Pursuit Portland game soon.

Reporters and others often like to dismiss Neighborhood Associations as argumentative, closed groups whose participants don't represent or care about the needs of the community as a whole. This Bridgeton story is but one more visible example of the many good things happening in Portland's recognized Neighborhood Associations. They also plan clean-ups, parties, block watches, tree plantings, and more. Collaboration, mediation, and compromise within and between Neighborhood Associations and other groups/individuals aren't nearly as rare as the article today seems to imply. It's good to see one success story highlighted as a fine example of all the good work Neighborhood Associations and other community groups do.

Buzz phrases I'm glad to see

  • Posted on: 11 December 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

You may have seen the commercial where audience members play bingo during a corporate training, tracking the speaker's motivational expressions such as "out-of-the-box-thinking", "win-win", "pro-active", etc. My personal favorite/pet peeve is the word "innovative", which seems to be required in many City of Portland press releases. "Innovative" has come to mean "speculative and likely to cost more money than promised", to me. That or, "completely obvious, should have been done years ago and probably was until the previous innovative idea was implemented". Either way, if it's "innovative", you have to support this if you're a progressive Portlander! Even if it means you're going to get worked over, again!

Back to buzz phrases in general. In today's Oregonian reporting on the Portland Police Bureau's plan to assign more officers to walking beats, this popped out at me:

""This is a continuum of care," Central Precinct Cmdr. Mike Reese said. "We're trying a holistic approach.""

"Continuum of care" and "holistic approach" are phrases I hear all the time in treatment planning on the psychiatric unit at OHSU. And they're not used because they're trendy, but because nurses, doctors and support staff remind each other that each 8 hour shift, each patient assignment, is part of our clients' ongoing lives. We can't help them reach long-term recovery unless we address housing, income, community supports and ongoing medical care, as well as medicating their brain's disordered biochemistry.

I'm glad to read the language of caring in a report on Portland Police Bureau programs. Another recent article, Officer defuses deadly situation, gave credit to crisis intervention training, now mandatory, for giving Portland Officer James Nett the skills needed to reach a peaceful outcome with a man holding a gun. As with other civic issues, too often the media gives extensive coverage to Bad Stuff and a paragraph (if that) to Good Stuff. I hope you noticed the Good Stuff articles.

Next Up at City Council, 12/12 - 12/13, 2007

  • Posted on: 8 December 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

The most important items I see on the coming week's Portland City Council Agenda are on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, both Time Certain.

On Wednesday:

1483 TIME CERTAIN: 2:00 PM – Accept the report on Parks System Development Charge Update

Commissioner Dan Saltzman deserves huge credit for his leadership on this issue. The report covers Systems Development Charges for parks - fees assessed on new residential development to help pay for new parks required to provide the increased capacity needed by new residents. See previous post here from June. Commissioner Saltzman is proposing to assess fees on non-residential development, and to increase the assessment for new homes to 75% of the cost of providing service to them. "Evaluation of the current Park SDC rates revealed that since its implementation in July 2005 the current recovery rate had eroded from a projected 37% to 20% in central city and to 26% in the non-central city." In other words, new development is currently paying only 20 - 26% of the burden of service needs it's creating.

Key recommendations in the report - which is attached to the Agenda item, yay!:

* Within the Central City Park SDC Boundary, the Task Force recommends that the methodology allocate 50% of urban park acreage to local access parks and 50% of the acreage to citywide access.

* The recommended allocation is for local SDCs to pay 10% of the costs for Washington Park, while citywide assessments put in 90%; for the South Waterfront park, the recommended split is 50:50.

* The Task Force was unable to reach consensus on a recommended level of assessment.

The Task Force considered increasing the fee in a range of proposals from 33% to 100% cost recovery. Commissioner Saltzman earns kudos for proposing 75% - assuming this is still his position at the hearing on Wednesday. He heard significant opposition from development interests, and put the needs of the city and citizens first in going for a relatively high number to charge for the Parks SDC. It's still less than some neighboring jurisdictions, but I'm pleased to see greater parity in making new development pay its way. An exemption for affordable housing remains, so although the higher fees will indeed increase housing costs, there is some capacity for adjustment to meet other values and needs.

I don't see that 75% number in the report. Nor do I see reference to charging SDCs on commercial development, which I believe is part of the package. Although it's nice to have the link on line, it would be even more helpful if the proposal was clearly laid out with specifics.

I've seen emails complaining about lack of public outreach and involvement in this process. In my opinion, this issue has had one of the most extensive and diligent community input efforts in recent Portland Parks & Recreation history. The report notes:

The pros and cons of K-8 schools

  • Posted on: 7 December 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

I didn't really have time to fit in a lunchtime meeting on Wednesday. The lack of posts here and elsewhere is because Tuesday night, my Neighborhood Association Board held a Special Meeting to review the Portland Bureau of Development Services' Staff Report on a 12 lot subdivision application. I recently stepped down as the land use chair after fifteen years, but both the new land use volunteer and the Neighborhood Association President live too close to the proposed development to be able to sort through the various conflicting values without being accused of personal bias. I've long committed to serving on this particular application... which has been in the pipeline for several years. I've spent most of the past two days engrossed in the five-inches-thick tome known as Title 33, happily tapping out the response agreed by consensus at our meeting. Happy because I love land use cases, where the rules are clear and it's a matter of detailing whether the application meets them or not. And because the level of agreement we reached at our meeting on Tuesday was unexpected, given that we were talking about change, development, and not getting everything everyone wanted. I'm submitting our memorandum this morning.

I took time out Wednesday lunchtime to attend the League of Women Voters of Portland's monthly meeting, at the Central Library. It was a panel discussion on the virtues and flaws of middle schools and/or schools teaching kindergarten through 8th grade. The speakers were Dennis Hartinger, eighth grade teacher at Roseway Heights School; Kimberley Campbell, Assistant Professor of Education, Lewis & Clark College in the Masters of Teaching program (where my son Luke hopes to be accepted - sadly, I didn't get a chance to put in a word for him after the meeting); Joan Miller, former principal and current Portland Public Schools (PPS) administrator as Coordinator of PK-8 Reconfiguration; and David Wynde, PPS School Board member. Each spoke for 15 minutes then took questions. Dennis firmly believes middle schools are better for more kids and teachers. Kim said the research evidence is mixed. Joan advocated for the k-8 approach, and David provided a reality check by reminding the audience the decisions to blend and close schools are at least in part due to budget constraints. It was an interesting session. Probably everyone in attendance (and it was a good turnout) had some preconceived beliefs validated. Middle schools allow more choices in electives, provide counselors, and draw teachers who truly want to specialize in early teenage education. K-8 reduces isolation of adolescents through ongoing relationships with staff they've known for years, as well as by contact with younger kids. The K-8 configuration can also help support keeping neighborhood elementary schools open, and allowing students to stay closer to home for middle school.

The comments of district administrators sounded to me like the spiels Steve and I heard as parents of grade school children in the early 1990s -- perhaps the darkest days of budget/staff cutting in the aftermath of Measure 5 passing. Then, administrators spent most of the time at parent meetings trying to convince families that "blended classrooms" are good for kids. Blended classrooms are where two or more grade levels are taught together. We experienced one or more of our children being the lower and upper halves of 1st-2nd grade blends, and 3rd-4th, and 4th-5th. While the blends may have helped them socially, in some ways, I don't believe the assurances we were told that they would not affect academic progress held true. And frankly, I would have preferred being treated as an adult, and rather than being told the blends were chosen for academic success, the administration should have said clearly, "We have to do this for budget reasons."

This year is the first year in 17 years of being a Portland Public Schools parent that I haven't had to worry about cuts as we started school in September. We're not out of the woods yet, by any means. The article in Wednesday's Willamette Week about underfunding and underfstaffing the Young Mens Academy at Jefferson is but the latest reminder of that. As David Wynde said, money isn't the only factor making good schools, but it is one factor. One of the primary reasons for moving to k-8 configurations is budgetary, and I think it would be helpful if we all agree on that, and change the focus to how to make it work best. Endless discussion of whether 8th graders are good influences on kindergarteners and vice versa, or not, wastes precious time and energy if the decision on grade configurations is really already determined by economics.

An important edition of Next Up at City Council

  • Posted on: 4 December 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

There are some weeks when the Portland City Council's public hearings agenda looks dull to most people. I hope that by posting Next Up at City Council regularly since the beginning of the year, I've helped readers see that interesting/important/dangerous stuff sometimes lurks underneath. This week, as I worked on the latest edition early Sunday morning then finished it up on Monday, my review seemed particularly important, with a $77 million item sitting innocently in the list.

So I was highly chagrined when I checked in here yesterday evening, and found the post disappeared. As noted last week, we're changing hosts, and apparently I unknowingly uploaded Next Up in the midst of the switch. And thereby lost it. Thankfully, fairy blogmother Lynn Siprelle is not only a genius, but also dedicated to helping out in multiple ways. She retrieved and posted it, and if you scroll down to yesterday's posts, you'll see it back up. Or click here.

We are still having minor difficulties with the blog - an old page from my first campaign keeps mysteriously appearing as the home page, rather than the latest blog posts. We're working on it.

Next Up at City Council 12/5-6, 2007

  • Posted on: 3 December 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

The Portland City Council's Agenda for this coming Wednesday morning shows a scheduled hearing on allocating over $76 million in funds to various bureaus and projects. Any questions? Feel like you've had plenty of input into how to spend $76 million? Good! Moving on....

No, backing up, $76,678,593 is a lot of money. The City calls it the "Minor Supplemental Budget for the FY 2007-08 Fall Budget Adjustment Process", sometimes known as the "Fall BuMP" (Budget Monitoring Process). Some will say that $76 million in a budget of over $2.5 billion is a small fraction. But it seems to me that most of the notices I've seen coming out from City email sources over the past month or two have been on raising additional funding for transportation improvements, increasing the Parks Systems Development Charges, ongoing invitations to continue Visioning, and watershed planning events. Allocating $76 million? Not on the community involvement radar screen until it shows up on the Council Agenda. Can any reader help the rest of us out, and make time to look into what's being proposed? One snip:

"The fall Minor Supplemental Budget increases resources and requirements by $77.1 million, in nineteen funds. The largest of these are the General Fund ($55.2 million), Federal Grants Fund ($8.4 million), General Reserve Fund ($3.9
million), Housing Investment Fund ($3.2 million), and Parks Capital Construction & Maintenance Fund ($2.5 million)"

In skimming the report, it seems some of the money is carryover from the previous fiscal year. I also notice that paragraph says $77.1 million while the ordinance says $76.6. I hope staff financial experts in all five Council offices have looked into the reports in detail. But experts and concerned people in the community should have adequate opportunity to look it over and give input, too.

OK, back to the Agenda. Two of the three Citizen Communications seem particularly compelling:

T-shirt weather

  • Posted on: 30 November 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

With the possibility of snow, and certainty of a cold afternoon watching the Civil War in Eugene tomorrow, I'm posting this to remind myself of all the lovely summer days where we can sit around at night in Portland without bundling up.

Bumped again, back again

  • Posted on: 29 November 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

My two sites were down again overnight, due to a second wave of attacks against another of Lynn Siprelle's mothering sites. We've switched to a new provider with better defences, and hope that's the end of disrupted service.

Columbia River Crossing bridge

  • Posted on: 28 November 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

The Oregonian's Dylan Rivera reported today that "experts" say a new $4.2 billion bridge is needed to replace the current bridge on I-5 between Portland and Vancouver. I first covered the proposal on this blog back in January. As mentioned in the latest version of Next Up at City Council, the Portland City Council coincidentally had a minor contract on their Agenda this morning. I used the opportunity of the hearing to outline some of my questions and concerns.

I posted my comments to Council on my campaign site. Subscribers using the comment guidelines are welcome to comment on that post, here.

Biofuels = Expensive beer

  • Posted on: 27 November 2007
  • By: Amanda Fritz

That title got your attention, didn't it?

The Oregonian reported Sunday that biofuel production is increasing the price of beer, threatening significant impacts on Portland's thriving microbrewery industry.

"Hops and barley acreage has been declining -- hops because of a 10-year glut and barley because many farmers are planting corn for ethanol instead. Ethanol has also diverted corn from the feed market, often making it more lucrative to sell barley for feed instead of to the malting houses that supply brewers."

OK, now can we start talking about the moral and economic impacts of burning food for fuel? Can we discuss the trade-offs in Oregon's agricultural, microbrewery, and other industries, related to biofuels? We're not talking about raising the cost of staple-food tortillas in Mexico now, we're facing increases in the price of Portland's beers.

Future state and local subsidies for biofuel crop production should include analysis of what is not going to get grown/eaten/drunk if farmland is used to grow stuff for fuel. If either humans or animals eat a crop, that product shouldn't be used for biofuels. Cellulose, waste products, used fryer oil - sure, convert them all to biofuels. Land where nothing edible can grow, and hardier plants suitable for conversion can be sustained without significant environmental impacts? Waste not, want not, as the saying went during World War I. Corn, canola, and other foods are needed for hungry people and animals, not car engines. Portland's brewers and the people who enjoy their products are stakeholders in the City's subsidies of biofuels. Care and attention must be given to which biofuels to support.