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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Trouble in the 'hood

Seems like Commissioner Big Pipe Saltzman has endeared himself to yet another group of Portland neighbors. We're sure there is more than one side to this one, but the neighbors have reached us first, and here is what one of them writes:

Dear Jack,

Thought you might be interested in this story. The Miracles Club, a center for drug and alcohol recovery, will soon be obligated to move from its current home on MLK and Mason to a newly-purchased location, just across the street to 4218 NE MLK Blvd. The move sounds innocuous enough until you hear Herman Bryant, the Miracles Club Board Chairman, speak about the proposed development.

What he proposes is a facility that would encompass the entire lot from MLK to Grand; the section of Grand Avenue in question is currently a quiet, family-centered block (I live on this block.) That will all change if Mr. Bryant has his way, and we neighbors are alarmed and angry.

The proposed facility is to house 30-40 low-income transitional housing apartments, which will sit atop a space for recovery meetings which will occur at literally all hours of the day and night (starting 6:30 am to 12 midnight.) In addition, the space will be used for parties of 200 + persons every weekend night that get out at 12 midnight. The space will also be home to a coffeeshop. Finally, the developers and architects (Guardian Management and Carlton-Hart, respectively) plan to create a thru-way for cars to stream across the lot from MLK to Grand and back, essentially creating a road in the middle of the block. Total number of parking spaces for this multi-purpose facility? 15. Yes, that's right -- fifteen.

This is all a pet project of Commissioner Salzman, who appeared before the PDC last October to ask them to move the Urban Renewal Area boundary from the Oregon Convention Center area in order to recieve stop-gap funding from the PDC (which they gave in the amount of $3 million dollars.) This is in addition to the massive city dollars already sunk into the project, as well as county dollars.

With all this taxpayer money being poured into this project, which is supposed to help the poor, troubled residents of King... wouldn't you think that someone would think to alert the residents of the King neighborhood, in detail, that this hugely impactful project was happening in their neighborhood? The ONLY notification that was given, at a neighborhood association meeting, was back in October -- and that notice was merely to say that the PDC had expanded the URA in association with the project. No details about the project. No notice whatsoever to residents that their tax money is shortly going to be used on a project that is going to seriously and negatively impact their quiet neighborhood. We know the impact on the neighborhood to be negative not due solely to common sense -- we also hear the remarks and comments from the neighbors who surround the current location, who are all too glad that the club is moving.

We on the block are extremely angry and upset. I am enclosing my letter to Commissioner Salzman's office; I did receive a polite call today from Sara King from the PDC in response to this letter; she assured me that the PDC's part in the matter had ended, and encouraged me to contact Commissioner Salzman. The upcoming King Neighborhood Association's upcoming board meeting on June 11 will most certainly result in a KNA official position on the matter.

What upsets me the most is the condescending attitude inherent in the hasty and underhanded way this project was rushed through the system; plenty of public funds are being used, with NO opportunity for public participation of the process. Would the powers that be try this in Alameda? Hillsdale? Irvington? And yet, for the King residents, it is foisted upon us like an unwelcome gift. Ironically, there is absolutely no data nor evidence that the majority of the users and members of the Miracles Club are from the King area.

I'd be very interested to hear your and your readers' thoughts on the matter... Thank you for your attention.

Most sincerely,
Maureen Kenny
Portland, OR 97211

She asked for it. Readers?

Comments (16)


Front Porch had a pretty good article on it, including the original Oregonian story from a year and a half ago:

Almost all the club's members are African American. Most come from Northeast Portland. Now they may have to find a new place to seek salvation.
"This is a cultural split, a black-and-white thing," [Miracles chief Harry] Watson says. "Our culture is more vocal. We'll call to each other across the street. We'll play our music loud because we're so excited.
". . . What's going on here is that white people are moving in, and they don't want us around. It's almost like this white entitlement thing, 'We're here now, so you have to get out or change.' "

A block away, Peggy Whelan sighs, runs a hand through her silver hair and looks out the window of her mint-green bungalow.
"I hate to say this," she says, "but I think the problem here is a cultural clash. The culture I grew up in wasn't as vocal. We didn't blare our music out of the car. We didn't have conversations with people a block away. . . There's this entitled attitude that some people over at the club have, this, 'We were here first, so you just have to adjust' thing."

Miracles has done a lot of people a lot of good, and I hope they don't get chased out of their place a second time.

Hmmm...sounds like the typical autocratic decision-making process that Big Pipe is so good at, when he's not allowing incompetent underlings to make the decisions he seemingly cannot.

Saltzman is the joker who should have been bounced off the council years ago.

The area is zoned for high density use, adjacent to existing business and public transit. Seems to me to be an acceptable location for a recovery center. After all--the Alano Club is smack-dab in the middle of single family residential area in NW.

the letter makes it sound as though this would be new construction, displacing existing homes. It's not -- they're talking about the Miracles Club moving across the street into an existing, long-completed structure. Hit Google Street View for confirmation. The building to the south has plenty of parking available as well.

That's my neighborhood, by the way, though not my block.

Another neighbor over that way writes:

Hello Jack,

I know my neighbor Maureen Kenny sent you an email regarding the Miracles Club development; I append my own letter to add to the conversation and I volunteer myself to you as a source for comment should you find this matter of interest. I am currently in the process of attempting to wrest meaningful accounts from the City and from the PDC as to their brazenly aloof prosecution of this development; I will supply you with any interesting responses I receive. I will note, before closing, that at the end of any line of inquiry into this affair lies the reputation of Commissioner Saltzman, and that his conduct and judgment in this project have thus far fallen well short of the high standards we expect from the tenants of his office.

Charles Boardman


Commissioner Dan Saltzman
City of Portland
1221 SW 4th Ave. Rm. 230
Portland, Oregon 97204
cc: Mayor Potter
Commissioners Adams, Sten and Leonard
Shannon Callahan, Esq
Sara King, PDC
Anna Griffin, The Oregonian

Dear Commissioner Saltzman:

Although as of the 14th of May, 2008, I am the newly elected Chair of the King Neighborhood Association, I write to you today solely as a concerned citizen and not in my official capacity as KNA Chair.

I write to express my severest disappointment regarding the manner in which the public participation process for the proposed Miracles Club development has been handled thus far. In the last two weeks (after unearthing the details myself through obscure and circuitous routes), I have personally spoken with every single resident of Grand Avenue between Skidmore and Mason, as well as with a number of other King residents who live within a block of the proposed development, and without exception, not a single one of them was aware that a major $11,000,000 city- and PDC-funded drug treatment facility was set to break ground in less than a year within feet of their door. Would this gross procedural oversight have happened in Alameda? Would it have happened in Hillside? In the Pearl? I think you know the shameful answer to that question. I think a few hundred of those $11 million might have been very well spent sending clear, earnest letters, knocking on the doors of those most affected, holding well-publicized meetings, and so forth. But, one cannot help but have the feeling that because it's only lowly old King, it's "only MLK," it's quite acceptable to brush off those pesky processes and get down to the business of breaking ground.

Now, my neighbors and I know that incumbent to the receipt of these public funds there are very stringent, detailed requirements for public notification and for securing the buy-in of the local residents. Clearly, these have been flouted – if not in letter, then in spirit. You see, not only did no one within a block of the proposed development know about it, but each and every one of them, once made aware, expressed grave concern about many elements of the development in its current incarnation. To receive such staggering sums of public funds and then to fail to have a meaningful, early conversation with the individuals who will be most affected is unthinkable to me. Imagine: on the one hand, I receive a seven-page, exquisitely detailed notification from the Planning Bureau when one of my neighbors wants to cut down an eighty-year-old diseased cherry tree, and yet, my neighbors and I receive no direct notification whatsoever when the city and the PDC are spending $11 million of public funds to put a drug-treatment facility with a residential component mere feet from our front doors – does this make any sense to you? I hope not. Does this compel a rational observer to suspect intentional obscurity in the interests of fast-tracking a controversial development? For many longtime King residents I have spoken with, yes, it does. For many, it is yet another chapter in a long, painful history of top-down "we-know-best" decision-making from City Hall. While Miracles Club is a venerable, important King organization, this hasty, fast-tracking approach to investing in its future ironically does a serious disservice to the actual residents of that neighborhood (I note that many, if not most, of the current Miracles clients do not actually live in King). Rather than showing the City and yourself as well-meaning catalysts of growth and health in the King Neighborhood, this project thus far has been a perpetuation of the old top-down approach that has occasioned so much historical alienation and resentment.

In addition to my grave disappointment over the manner in which public participation has been disrespectfully glossed over, I have a number of very valid and serious concerns about the negative impact the current incarnation of the proposed plans will have on what is currently a very diverse, child-friendly, family-friendly, quiet and thriving street. As a final note, I alert you that in these serious, valid concerns I am by no means alone.


Charles Boardman

Disregard my previous comment -- I had the address wrong. They would in fact be demolishing some commercial bunker that is currently just a graffiti magnet.

I live across the street from the proposed development and I am one of the neighbors who has been active in raising alarms and I want to stress, in the most stringent, definitive tones, that this is not a "cultural" or racial issue. It has been and could be _racialized_, but that would be in defiance of the true core issues which involve due process, civic respect and public participation protocols. In fact, among the most incensed about the Miracles Development are a number of African-American and Mexican-American families who have lived on that street in the King neighborhood for decades (longer than Miracles in some cases!). No, this is not NIMBYism from interloping gentrifiers. I encourage all of you who follow this story and commentate to understand that our main objection involves the fact that neither the PDC, the City nor Miracles Club felt it was necessary to spend any of the massive $11m committed to this project to in any way notify or contact the people - families, children - who live within five-hundred feet of the site. No letters, no posted notices, no invitations to share our needs and expectations. Nothing. Seriously, nothing. And both the City and the PDC have very clear language about public participation which was grossly flouted in letter and spirit time and again in this process. I mean, we get eight-page letters from Planning when a neighbor wants to cut down a tree! And yet no one felt the need to tell me or the other families (we're a diverse, hardworking, quiet street) about the $11m drug treatment facility feet from our doors? Ironically, this top-down "we know best" modus operandi, rather than showing Saltzman and the City to be catalysts for growth and health in the long-neglected King Neighborhood, merely catches them perpetuating the old patronizing force-feed style of development that has created so much historial alienation and mistrust. Saltzman's olive branch to King is actually a thorny briar.


In fact, the development site is an L-shaped composite of empty lots just North of that hangar-thing you mentioned. Now, all of us are totally welcoming some development there - it's a big empty lot surrounded by concertina-wire fencing - and no one has come out and objected to Miracles per se. Carleton Hart is the architecture firm and they've put together a cool, LEED cert'd building. No probs there. And Miracles has a right to a new building in King - fine, no objection. But again, we feel betrayed and angry b/c no one bothered to tell us about this at any point. In fact, how we found out is I literally overheard someone randomly talking about this on the street and after some deep Googling and emailing around I finally found out that it was going to be across the street from me! Surprise! Then I told my neighbors, none of whom had any idea. Look at the PDC Public Participation Manual and tell me please how it was ok not to directly contact the folks who live across the street from the place to ask us to sit down and talk about needs, concerns, expectations... We needed to be reached out to a year ago, and now so many of the key decisions have been made and processes set in motion and we're just snowed trying to sort it out and find a meaningful strategy to prevent this development from wrecking our pleasant, diverse, quiet, kid-friendly street.

Why are you members of the KNA so upset. You keep on voting these people into office time and again. You should know by now that if you don't agree with them you are a racist. Get over it or vote them out.

This is amazing. While this blog continually points out that Portland is deeply in debt and the County can't keep its jails open nor repair its bridges, they spend money on this? I have been in recovery from alcohol for twenty years and can attest that there is no need for this facility. There are AA meetings all over this city and that is the only way to get sober. I suspect a new treatment center is needed but parties with 200 recovering addicts on MLK will attract drug dealers like flies to honey. And ruin what ever sobriety those poor people have. Portland needs to fund cops, bridges, roads and firemen and get out the way of AA.

I wonder if the Alano Club engendered this kinda opposition.

Neighborhood associations aren't worth their salt if they aren't NIMBYs. Shoot, if people oppose softball diamonds, what chance do you think recovering addicts and transitional (read: low-income)housing have?

What about the children, the families?

I think the Miracles Club typically hosts family-friendly events as well as recovery meetings. I have purchased dinners during their fundraising in past years. I think having an alcohol and drug free gathering spot is a value-add to that area. I lived a stone's throw away from the current club for six years, and um, Miracles is one of the more peaceful presences in that little stretch.

Charles says:

Carleton Hart is the architecture firm and they've put together a cool, LEED cert'd building.

"LEED certified" is greenspeak for massive public subsidy.

I have been in recovery from alcohol for twenty years and can attest that there is no need for this facility.

Way to practice the 11th tradition!!

Ms. Contrarian,

I appreciate your points about Miracles - and to be clear, we do not object to Miracles being our neighbor. We object that neither the City nor the PDC told us anything about this massive, impactful tax-funded project. There are public participation rules for a reason. The old "develop first, ask questions later" era is over, especially in Portland. Yet, this is precisely what happened. So, yes, Miracles may be a fine addition for the reasons you mentioned, but there is a way to do this (talk to neighbors, build consensus, share concerns about design elements) and a way not to do this. We object to certain _elements_ of the design, not to the design or the project as such. Important distinctions.

Looks like there will be plenty of opportunities to tinker with the final product through the land use process. Development Services is requiring both design review and a conditional use review. The neighbors can get their pound of flesh through city code section 33.815.105.B and C.


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