The Code Change project for City Code section 3.96 has underscored the strong agreement among Portlanders that City Code is in need of reform to better reflect and represent diverse elements of our community. The Office of Community and Civic Life, unfortunately, has not effectively engaged many Portlanders who have a strong stake in what changes are adopted. The proposed changes would not move the city forward in a positive way, but, indeed, would introduce new problems.
In recent weeks, City Council members and city staff have worked to slow down the effort to update City Code section 3.96, which we applaud. This important code affects all Portlanders, including not just neighborhoods and diverse communities, but numerous city bureaus. We appreciate that our City Commissioners recognize that Portland needs a code change that is accomplished thoughtfully and well, rather than done fast.
The new proposed Resolution, however, is a product of the earlier, fast-tracked process, and is not ready for adoption. It contains many policy gaps, lacks needed details, entails significant risks, and fails to address the need for transparency, civic participation, and checks and balances. In particular, it does nothing to address the Auditor’s 2016 finding that greater clarity of roles, accountability, and transparency are needed, and it makes no effort to acknowledge the unique and fundamental role of neighborhood associations in providing accountable geographic access for constituents, a channel for civic participation that is crucial in a city that elects its Council at large. Instead of seeking to strengthen diversity of participation and inclusiveness in neighborhood associations, this proposal seems to assume that neighborhood associations will remain less than desirable partners in city governance. This is an unnecessary, divisive, and undemocratic approach.
This proposed Resolution, if adopted, would thus create new concerns, and would add further confusion to a process that has already sown unnecessary division and acrimony in the Portland community. The broad consensus that City Code must be updated in ways that reflect growing diversity by increasing rather than diminishing the avenues for Portlanders to engage with their City government should be the guiding light of Council action.
Civic Life’s accompanying Report compiles numerous documents produced by the bureau throughout the Code Change effort. Numerous questions and concerns have emerged from the community in recent months; regrettably these responses, by and large, are neither acknowledged nor addressed in the Report, which limits its utility in informing important decisions.
Rather than adopt the proposed Resolution as written,we hope that City Council will take a deliberate approach. A group of Portland community members has identified a list of the substantial shortcomings in the proposed Resolution (“Comments and Questions on Proposed Resolution 11.12.19”). We ask members of City Council to review those concerns carefully and to address the policy considerations raised therein. While the issues under consideration demand action, that effort must be far more inclusive; moving forward without addressing the divisions engendered in the early stages of the Code Change effort will only escalate those divisions rather than healing them.