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Thursday, April 22, 2010

This land is your land

This afternoon's Portland City Council hearing on new zoning rules for the city's public schools is shaping up to be a hot one. Among those sure to show up are the angry parents who have rightly pointed out that the school board broke all the city's zoning rules when it "reconfigured" the public schools a couple of years ago. Now that the city is proposing to change its rules to legitimize future maneuvers of a similar nature, the activist types are complaining that it will "pave [the] way for Portland Public Schools to increase segregation, close schools, and sell public land."

The smell of rat emanating from the school district's real estate operation is indeed strong. There's some sort of "trust" group hovering around, ready to have the school board sell the Lincoln High School site, the school board headquarters, and other juicy properties, for a song to the Joe Westons and Homer Williamses of the world (who are well represented on the committee, no doubt). And there's no way the developer handmaidens on the City Council are going to stand in the way of that.

Meanwhile, Super Carole, whose next move is going to be to try to close some high schools -- lucky winners to be announced Monday -- is in a snit. She's accusing the city of infringing on her turf. An appearance by everybody's pal Chris "Streetcar" Smith (no relation to the super, apparently), in his new role as the mayor's planning expert, rounds out the tragicomic scene.

Comments (7)

The City Council can't have other agencies running around doing their own thing. It must have tacit control over Metro, TriMet, the county, PDC, etc. lest these "rogues" do something that contradicts the will of the clerics at the "Church of Planning (And Developer Enrichment)".

Obviously, the school district is very much in their sights. Heck, Adams has publicly declared that schools are now his domain.

Then of course Randy will realize that the water bureau needs to operate its own school, next to his demonstration "sustainable home" and policed by the bureau's deputized posse.

Saltzman's BES budget will pay for it all.

"The smell of rat emanating from the school district's real estate operation is indeed strong."

Great line, Jack. I think there are some real possibilities with "The Smell of Rat."
I see a book, a movie, and one very angry rock band.

On-line schools don't require much real estate, and are not encumbered by union induced debt burdens, elevated wages, work rules, city codes, and ever changing school philosphies of "if-it's-working-it-needs-to-be-changed."

Private schools are also free from many of these encumberances imposed by the union-government partnership. My what a bureaucratic mess we weave when we allow local government and unions so much power.

Yessiree, Bob. I hear the Catholic Church runs some real fine schools...

Re: Lincoln High. Don't forget the plans from a few years ago to have Con Way swap its NW industrial district properties with the Lincoln HS property (or something like that). Portland Trib did a good piece and then.....nothing. What gives?

For those who would like more understanding of the Zoning Code Violations by PPS, the two years of inaction by the City, and the monumental changes proposed to the zoning code, here are some additional materials. The Mayor was absent for the City Council meeting on this critical issue, which could bring K-12 schools to PPS behind the backs of the people, and in violation of the current code.

Lynn Schore and Mary Ann Schwab
4/22/10 statement to Council

My name is Lynn Schore, my husband and I live in the Ashcreek Neighborhood in SW Portland, and my children attend Hayhurst and Jackson. I'm a proud member of the Oregon Assembly for Black Affairs.

City Council takes pride in sustainability and strives to be a world leader in this area. Portland Public Schools was essentially designed to be a group of twenty-minute neighborhoods. If you change code, the city will facilitate PPS's ever-larger carbon footprint, wasting resources, and stressing our shrinking tax base to warehouse children ... after unnecessary vehicle rides to transport them. Real estate values will shrink in neighborhoods without schools and Portland's livability index will deteriorate. In the name of improving public education, enforce the zoning code! End segregation in PPS! Reopen Portland's small schools; help students walk and bike to school, save money, improve fitness, and reduce the carbon footprint and auto pollution.

Discrimination against Portland's children is occurring on City land in PPS schools. It is unconscionable that the City of Portland would contemplate sweeping changes to the zoning ordinance in order to give PPS retroactive immunity from activities that are illegal under federal, state and city law, city charter and the Comprehensive Plan. I implore you to make no changes to Chapter 33 of the Zoning Code at this time. Instead, immediately enforce your own code.

The August 2009 release of Oregon educational data bolsters my community's arguments regarding these 11 schools. The data evidences poor academic performance at 10 of 11 schools with zoning code violations. Three PPS schools with zoning code violations (Ockley Green, Portsmouth, Roseway Heights) are on the NCLB watch list, and missed performance targets for the first time. Fernwood is the only school that is currently not evidencing poor performance in test scores, but teachers tell me that Fernwood students are now getting seven weeks less algebra per year than neighboring Beaumont Middle School students. That gross inequity will soon be documented in test data.

Does our Council know that not one Portland resident, from schools complainants to Grant Park safety complainants, ever asked for zoning changes? The zoning ordinance was perfectly clear, thus the valid violations for both groups as verified by Eric Engstrom in 2008. For two years now, complainants have asked Portland to enforce it own zoning Ordinance.

The City of Portland's "Refinement Project" has been unnecessary and had predetermined outcomes. The predetermined outcome of this project was to provide retroactive immunity to PPS for Zoning Code violations against children, resulting in lack of equal access to education. We could NOT know that the City would negate sixty plus years of zoning history, and would introduce at the 11th hour a zoning code change which would allow K to 12 schools in all Portland districts: PPS, Centennial, Reynolds, David Douglas, Parkrose, and Riverdale. Why has there been no notification of this extreme system to stakeholders?

The only "stakeholders" who want zoning code changes are the ordinance violators (PPS) and those who have failed to enforce the ordinance (City of Portland). If the City of Portland changes code to give PPS retroactive immunity from zoning violations, this means the City of Portland deliberately wants segregated schools in Portland. It means that the Mayor and Council now sanction K-12 schools, which is illegal under state law without express Department of Education permission. Why suggest zoning changes which do not comport with state law? How could this benefit the children?

{The truth shall set us free. What is truth? The law documents our shared common values. In a free democratic society, law protects citizens and children from harm, authoritarianism, and anarchy. The law is the basis of a civil society, and allows for checks and balances. Civil society allows for public involvement before laws change. Justice should be tempered with mercy.} Justice, particularly with regard to children's education, should be swift. Where is our children's justice?


We've called the Real Estate Trust PPS's own Halliburton, because the Trust is a private outsourcing of essential City and school functions, can hide its actions because it is a private corporation, and can avoid public oversight. The Trust and Innovation Partnership are not representative of the interests of the Portland community, when they actually stand to profit from enrollment declines! When PPS let the Trust take over property management, the rationale was PPS had lost the ability to manage their properties and needed help. The Trust's main argument was that they brought real estate experience to work on "persistent community problems" like "cumbersome PPS real estate." We wondered if the District's violations of law during closures were due to ignorance of the City School Policy. Yet several individuals who have led school closures throughout this century actually helped author the City School Policy, Ordinance 150580.

We proved that PPS intermittently followed the zoning code, and went through required conditional use reviews depending on relative wealth of the neighborhood, so it's difficult for PPS attorneys and City staff to feign that the zoning code is unclear.

Saying that the term "elementary" does not define state-mandated grade levels is like saying the term blue does not define a color. The State of Oregon defines an elementary as any combination of grades K-8. It is not complicated, it's about the health and safety of our children.

An elementary school has specific requirements, different from those at a middle or high school. For the safety of young children, elementary schools are typically single story to make emergency evacuation safer. Elementary schools in Portland are tucked into neighborhoods, whereas high schools need easy access to large parking lots, and generate more traffic with inexperienced and distracted teen drivers. We don't want elementary kids near high school parking lots – that's one of the many reasons for the current zoning code! If high school and elementary school are combined, will young children have access to playfields large enough to meet state acreage standards?

Elementary schools must have restrooms and lunchrooms designed for small children, while high schools have their unique requirements. Most parents would be reluctant to have their five-year-old wandering a high school campus, at times unsupervised, with a broad section of young adults. After the K-8 travesty, you would give a green light to K-12? If you pass this zoning change, you will own all these problems.

These are public lands. They belong to the public at large, not the Mayor, not the City Council, not the Real Estate Trust, not the Center for Innovative School Facilities. There should be a golden rule of architectural preservation: treat the work of past generations with the same respect you would want given to your good works.

If you enforce your zoning ordinance, you will stop high school redesign on Monday. You have a duty as a City to protect and educate the children within your city. You need to be aware of what the school district is doing at all times, or else you abdicate responsibility for the children.

Finally, in the City That Works, I would like to end with a reading of the schools that have closed in Portland Public Schools since the first Earth Day:

Adams High School; Applegate; John Ball; Barlow; Brooklyn Neighborhood; Buckman Neighborhood; Clarendon; Collins View; Columbia (Marine Dr.); Columbia Prep site; Edwards; Foster; Fulton; Glenhaven; Green Thumb; Holladay; Holbrook; Kellogg; Kennedy; Kenton; Kerns; Linnton; Maricara site; Markham Annex; Meek; Mt. Tabor Annex; Multnomah; Normandale; Rice; Richmond Neighborhood; Rose City Park; Sacajawea; Shattuck; Smith; Spring Garden site; Sunnyside Neighborhood; Terwilliger; Washington High School; "Old Whitaker"; "New Whitaker"; Wilcox; Youngson.

Enforce your zoning ordinance NOW: stop high school redesign on Monday! Ronald Webb
FAX 503-412-4156
Speech to City Council 4/22/10

My name is Ron Webb. I live in the Piedmont neighborhood, and I graduated from Jefferson High School 54 years ago. I'm a member of the Jefferson High School Site Council and Jefferson High PTSA.

I am a zoning code complainant at ten Portland Public Schools, based upon grade reconfigurations that are illegal under the Schools and School Sites Chapter of the Zoning Code, or Chapter 33. I do not have Internet access, and I have NOT been notified of this meeting by mail or phone. It has been nearly impossible to keep up with PPS's zoning violations and the City's response because I have not been notified of meetings.

The City of Portland is in violation of its own Zoning Ordinance. Because the City has for two years refused to enforce the Zoning Ordinance, the City of Portland is now accessory to worsening segregation and discrimination at 11 PPS schools. The City of Portland has received 198 valid Zoning Code complaints regarding PPS's illegal and discriminatory activities at these schools. The students, families, schools and neighborhoods affected have thus far received no remediation after two years. Children have a very short time in which to get their education.

I would like to contribute by giving historical backdrop to these monumental changes to the zoning code.

1) The original design of Portland Public Schools (PPS) infrastructure was built to be sustainable, with a very low carbon footprint. The design by the great Lloyd T. Keefe and Dr. Amo DeBernadis, sited parks & schools adjacent to one another within each neighborhood, so students could walk to school.

2) PPS closed over 30 schools since 1960, preferring instead to warehouse children in substandard trailers and bus them back and forth across town wasting both student time and fossil fuels.

3) In 2005-06, PPS closed 6 more schools, arguing diminishing student population to get them closed. Most of these neighborhood schools were seismically upgraded, in great condition, academically successful, with active parental involvement.

4) Today PPS is claiming there is a population ‘bubble’ of children, and that now PPS must purchase $11.2 million in trailers to house children, rather then employing sustainable practices and reopening closed neighborhood schools.

5) Portland claims it is a world leader in sustainability and environmentalism, but its PPS magnet program has an exceptionally large carbon footprint, due to need to drive children all over town. This is a waste of resources; it increases pollution; discourages physical fitness in students; and inhibits active parental engagement at school.

6) PPS and the City are simultaneously selling off valuable real estate and liquidating public school infrastructure for short term financial profit. PPS is wasting resources, and employing unsustainable and wasteful practices, directly contrary to Portland’s goal to lead the world in green practices.

7) Taxpayers are already being asked to construct new schools in places like the Pearl, when there are serviceable school structures that could be redeployed. The schools that are planned will be so large they will in effect warehouse children. The destruction of these beautiful school buildings and their historic legacy is not in alignment with our city’s mission for sustainability, green building practices, and for recycling buildings & building materials.

Portland residents rightfully expect their investments, old and new alike, to be properly protected and maintained.

8) PPS has committed a host of zoning violations to implement illegal, unsustainable practices district-wide. The Zoning Ordinance is being used to foster segregation in Portland. The violations are resulting in many problems for children and neighborhoods, including segregation, lack of equal access to education, gerrymandering, curriculum inequity, teacher inequity, overcrowding, inability to walk and bike to school, long bus rides. Rather than fulfill Portland’s mission of sustainability and environmental conservation, they are holding a zone change hearing on Earth Day, April 22, to revise zoning codes to achieve their goal of dismantling PPS real estate infrastructure.

I urge that the Portland City Council to make no changes to the "Schools and School Sites" Chapter of the Portland Zoning Code. Instead, I urge that you immediately begin a process that should have begun two years ago, to look at the grievances of these children and schools and get them fixed! This Amendment will weaken the zoning code and embolden PPS to segregate further.

Thank you to Lynn Schore, Mary Ann Schwab and Ron Webb for all your good work and for sharing your statements. Helps many to understand the importance of this critical matter for our entire community.

I put this into my "Curtain Open - Curtain Closed" category. We need to point out the hypocrisy of calling our city sustainable when their actions are not sustainable.

Irony is that yesterday, April 24th the Earth Day Celebration event was held at the Washington High School site on 12th and Stark. Someone from another area asked about the building and what will happen to it, beautiful columns and all?

We are then celebrating earth day on the very land/earth that may be filled with development. The land is owned by the public, we need to keep the land and open space in public hands not to be wheeled and dealed with or sold in questionable economic times. The public needs this open space more than ever with this city's density agenda.

. . 1) The original design of Portland Public Schools (PPS) infrastructure was built to be sustainable, with a very low carbon footprint. The design by the great Lloyd T. Keefe and Dr. Amo DeBernadis, sited parks & schools adjacent to one another within each neighborhood, so students could walk to school. .

Real estate should be kept out of changing those good plans that were designed with the best interests for the community. In my opinion the motivations today are different.

The schools are the anchor of neighborhoods. The chaos these changes create throughout our entire city are unacceptable. Some students not getting the proper education is so wrong. The city avoiding violations of the code/zoning is wrong.

Why do we the citizens have to deal with "so many wrongs in our city"?

We have city elections for Commission seats May 18th.

When are the next school board elections?

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