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Friday, June 15, 2007

Redress of grievances

So you've found a newsrack on a Portland sidewalk that doesn't comply with the city code. (That was easy, wasn't it?) So now what? Where do you go to get the violation remedied?

It's hard to tell for sure. As we noted here yesterday when we found four newspaper boxes (two peddling the O and two giving away the Trib) violating the law on the corner of NE 24th and Fremont, two sections of the code forbid what's going on at that intersection: 17.44.010(A), forbidding sidewalk obstructions generally; and 17.64.040, forbidding attaching any object to any part of the city's street lighting or traffic signal systems. The four boxes also violate the city's "pedestrian design guidelines," whose precise legal relationship to the city code is unclear to us. One of the O's boxes also violates the city code provision requiring prompt graffiti removal. (I'll leave the spirit of the city's sidewalk sign rules out of this discussion, but the O boxes also could raise questions on that score as well.)

One obvious place to go is to the managements of the publications being dispensed from those boxes. It would be easy enough to complain to the publishers and circulation departments of the two offending newspapers, and quite interesting to see what kind of response that would get.

But what about the city? Which city officials are responsible for enforcing those sections of the code, and the "pedestrian design guidelines"?

Let's start with 17.44.010(A), on objects left on sidewalks generally. There's nothing in that chapter (17.44) specifically about violations and enforcement, but there's quite a bit of authority on related matters granted to the city engineer. Indeed, chapter 17.46, dealing with newsracks on the transit mall, explicitly puts the city engineer in charge in that part of town.

As for 17.64.040, on attaching objects to street lighting and traffic signal systems, there's no explicit discussion, anywhere we could find at least, of violations and enforcement of that provision, either. But a nearby section of the code appears to give authority to the Bureau of Transportation System Management for traffic signal system issues, and to the Bureau of General Services for street lighting issues. In our case, two of the offending boxes are attached to a traffic signal system, and so the Bureau of Transportation System Management seems the likely place to complain.

Now, what about those intrusions into the "obstruction free" and "no private use" zones on the sidewalks? Who is supposed to enforce those rules? Not entirely clear, but the "pedestrian design guidelines" document was officially issued by the city engineer, and so it appears that he or she would be in charge of enforcement there as well. (There is apparently also a city traffic engineer, but we don't read the code as getting him or her involved in enforcement of these aspects of the law.)

In sum, based on our best internet sleuthing through the city code itself, the responsible parties in city government for our complaint are the City Engineer and the Bureau of Transportation System Management. O.k., so who are these people, and to whom do they answer?

First and foremost, who the heck is the City Engineer? Nobody on the city's organizational chart seems to go by that title. As best we can make out, it's either the director of the Office of Transportation, Sue Keil, or her underling, the Director of that office's Engineering & Development Bureau, Don Gardner. As for the Bureau of Transportation System Management, the director of that group is Lavinia Gordon. All three, of course, work for Commissioner Sam Adams, the City Council member who runs the transportation office. Readers in the know, please correct us if we've got that wrong.

And so it looks as though we've got letters to send to a bunch of people: two at the O, two at the Trib, three people in the Office of Transportation, Sam Adams, and what the heck -- might as well send copies to the other four members of the City Council. See if we can get any of them to do anything about the newsrack situation on our corner, just as a test case. (Oh, and we mustn't forget the graffiti abatement officer about the nasty tag on the O box.)

If not, there are other avenues of complaint and protest, I suppose. But let's see what happens when we go through the most obvious channels first. We'll work on the complaint letters over the weekend and give readers a look at them on Monday.

Comments (11)

I wonder what the curbs around city hall look like?

Charter Section 2-105(a) list lots of claimed powers.

Assuming the city has the will power they might conclude just as did the "Citizens Advisory Committee on Quality Rental Housing" "that the existing enforcement system was inadequate and that many of the code violations were related to properties owned by a fairly small number of repeat offenders." A90943.htm

The facts continue:

"CAC recommended that City should pursue the repeat offenders and that City should establish and publicize a list of 12 repeat offenders whose properties would be inspected to clean up numerous violations. "

But it might still be cheaper for the city to buy free-speech distribution boxes and install and maintain them (Voter Owned News) than to fight. Objectors could be called speech vigilantes, or simply unclean.

You might consider trying to enlist the Pedestrian Advisory Committee in your crusade. They are formally charged with advising Commissioner Adams on pedestrian issues.

Try this:

PDOT- Use of the Right of Way:
Contact: Customer Service Line
Phone: (503) 823-7002
Select Option #3

Also: PDOT -
Contact: Sidewalk Section,
Phone: (503) 823-1711


Better be careful here Jack. CoP may just create another Bureau to handle this problem. Three new management positions at 100K plus. Seven High paid consultants to show them how to do their job. And so on.

Generate enough publicity and Smell bad randy will champion the cause...oh oh, no chance the Big O might be a necessary for his run for GUV. In fact all of those news boxes get a free ride from the politicos. Smart politics #1 citizens 0


Write a column in the Merc. They'll be outta there right after happy hour!


Letters, schmetters.

Declatory judgment and mandamus action against the city to require enforcement.

Let City Attorney Linda Meng figure out
who's resonsible for what.

Besides, a great opportunity to get a photo of Linda in action. She's so camera shy.

Leave it to one of our readers to set things straight!

Steve Townsen is the City Engineer. It used to be that the head of PDOT traditionally was the City Engineer, but Sue Keil is not an engineer, and cannot legally use that title. Don Gardner, head of Transportation Engineering and Development, is not an engineer either, so it is delegated to Steve Townsen, the head of the Engineering Services Division.

I've worked on sign and sidewalk problems recently and maybe--I'm not sure--I got PDOT to comply with the dimension requirements on the sidewalk. Many months of contact with Jeremy Van Kuren in the Mayor's office accomplished nothing on illegally posted campaign signs. ONI and one of their bureaucrats similarly dodged the complaint. A couple of the signs are still up.

I'm hoping that a good lawyer like Jack will show me the path to the "City that Works"

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