Dec 12, 2023 - News

Governor's downtown Portland task force makes recommendations

Photo illustration of Portland City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Emily Harris/Axios

After months of secretive meetings, Gov. Tina Kotek's task force on revitalizing downtown Portland released its recommendations — including removing plywood from outside government buildings, increasing shelter capacity for homeless individuals and declaring a fentanyl emergency.

Why it matters: Portland's struggles — notably accelerated by the pandemic — deeply wounded its cultural cachet and force as an economic powerhouse for the state, propelling officials to offer up policy ideas that gained little to no traction.

Zoom in: The majority of the nearly 50-member task force's recommendations are aimed at issues city officials have gone back and forth on over the past year.

  • The first two recommendations call for declaring a fentanyl emergency and banning the public use of controlled substances.
  • The task force suggests forming a tri-government command center (helmed by the state) to "refocus" existing resources and expand outreach efforts via community partners.
  • It also suggests ramping up law enforcement patrols by looping in park rangers and other "public safety support specialists" identified by the Portland Police Bureau who can respond to low-level incidents.

Flashback: This past summer, the Portland City Council passed an open-air drug ban (contingent on changes made to state law) to curb public fentanyl use and Mayor Ted Wheeler asked the state for 100 state troopers to assist the city's overwhelmed police force patrol downtown.

  • The task force's proposal for increasing shelter capacity and funneling an additional $3 million in county funds into daytime services for those experiencing homelessness are also ongoing.
  • Two additional temporary shelter sites are scheduled to open in the spring, while Multnomah County is working to add 50 additional beds throughout its network of seven Safe Rest Village sites.
  • The Joint Offices of Homeless Services recently announced the city and the county plan to extend its contract into 2027, despite criticism that it failed to distribute millions in funds.

Meanwhile, other task force suggestions address the downtown's appearance.

  • Plywood protection surrounding courthouses left over from the 2020 racial justice protests "sends the wrong signal to visitors" and should be removed before next year's Rose Festival.
  • The governor will seek to increase the budget of the state's Department of Transportation by $20 million so it can remove graffiti and trash from hotspots committee members identified.

Separately, to lure in new businesses and appease owners who remain in Central City, a moratorium on new taxes and fees should be put in place until the end of 2026 — at least.

  • Local policymakers should also explore new ways to offer business incentives, evaluate the current tax system, and expand the recently enacted downtown tax credit.

The bottom line: While the task force is made up of influential community leaders, heads of businesses, developers and lawmakers, its recommendations are just that — recommendations.

  • It's unclear how (or if) the recommendations will be implemented, and who is responsible for making what happen and footing the bill, though private fundraising efforts are "actively underway."
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