speaks at the start of an anti-CRC event
held Friday night in Portland.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)
There was plenty of evidence in Portland over the weekend of the growing movement to stop the Columbia River Crossing project. On Friday, non-profit political action committee Bike Walk Vote hosted a rally at a bike shop in southeast Portland; and on Saturday, several activists had a sit-down meeting with Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek.
At Crank Bicycles on Friday people learned about the project from notable community leaders, filled out letters to send to legislators, signed up for volunteer shifts to lobby state representatives, and donated money to non-profits working to stop the project. The mood was upbeat and the energy level was high as major cracks are beginning to form in the foundation of a project that many people think is inevitable.
For a project that has been fought by activists since about 2006, the event showed that those who oppose it haven’t given up and they’re more organized and fired up than ever before.
Standing on a stool in a sea of activists, board president of the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods (NECN) Chris Lopez did not mince words. “We are unequivocally against the CRC. So much so that we sued the state over this thing.” Lopez acknowledged that the state lawsuit didn’t pan out, so they’ve now sued the federal government. He and other volunteers from NECN are in Salem this week lobbying legislators. “Don’t let them fool you,” he told the crowd, “This is not a bridge project. It’s a highway project and it’s something that doesn’t need to be built… We cannot afford this, it shouldn’t happen, and we can’t do this to future Oregonians! It’s time to take action!”
Lopez ended his speech with a warning to legislators: “We have to let our legislators know that if they can’t get behind us on this, then maybe they don’t need to be our legislators for much longer.”
We learned Friday night that non-profit environmental justice organization Coalition for a Livable Future is hiring a full-time lobbyist to work in Salem starting today. CLF’s Board President Jo Ann Hardesty said the lobbyist will talk with every legislator. “They’ll tell them that this project is not acceptable, that Portlanders don’t want it, Oregonians don’t want it, and we can’t afford it.” “There’s nothing about this project that passes the smell test,” she added. “We the people get to decide what a livable community looks like, and that ain’t it.”
Metro Councilor (and former executive director of land-use non-profit 1000 Friends of Oregon) Bob Stacey was next to address the crowd. He painted a picture of what our neighborhoods will look like if this project goes through:
“The bridge is 10 lanes, re-stripable to 12 (not counting shoulders, so you could get to 14 lanes if you want). But even at just 10 lanes, it connects to a 6-lane freeway on the Oregon side. What do we need 10 lanes for? The project description has always said we need to push another 50,000 cars through there every morning and night because we’ll have sprawling development in Clark County and those folks will continue to work in Oregon. Where are they going to go on the Oregon side? They’re going to go to Vancouver Avenue, to MLK Blvd, they’ll split off and go to the St. Johns Bridge…There’s going to be massive traffic jams on I-5 southbound, cut-through traffic, a significant increase in air pollution in north and northeast Portland neighborhoods.”
I also recorded his remarks:
Stacey said both the City of Portland and Metro have required the CRC project to fund a mitigation program for impacted neighborhoods. “But out of the $3.5 billion budget,” he said, “the project has put aside zero for mitigation programs.”
Then there’s the tolling plan. Stacey is one of many skeptics who think the project’s tolling plans won’t pan out. Once the tolls are put into place, Stacey feels traffic will just avoid I-5, opting instead for the nearby I-205, which would, “Swamp the Banfield [I-84 freeway] and all the east-west arterials through Portland.”
Stacey called the project a “series of dumb ideas piled on one another” that has been pushed by a “$160 million PR machine”. That same “PR machine”, he added, is “now trying to sell a $450 million down payment by Oregon taxpayers.” (Referring to HB 2260, which activists are calling a blank check for a bad project.)
Then Ron Buel — introduced by Stacey as the “Godfather” and a man many credit as a key part in the movement to stop the Mt. Hood Freeway project — came to the front and showed he still has lots of fight left in him. (Stacey referred to the CRC as “this generation’s Mt. Hood freeway.”)
Buel is spearheading a group of nine people who have made it their mission to speak face-to-face with 30 state legislators to “sow doubt” about the CRC.
“Let’s look at what’s really going on here. The power elite of this city and this state are on board.”
— Ron Buel
Buel understands how political power works and he’s alarmed at how its shaking out with this project. “Let’s look at what’s really going on here,” he said, at the outset of his speech. “The power elite of this city and this state are on board.” Buel named Senators Wyden and Merkley, all the organized labor groups (except teachers), The Oregonian (he said they’ve written 37 editorials in support of the project since June 2008), and the main business groups as being strongly in support of the CRC.
“This is a steamroller folks! And we’re trying to stop it… And the odds are way against us. Way against us. But, I gotta say, that despite that, despite that, we’re going to win and they’re going to lose.”
Buel pointed out that in many ways, CRC project backers have already lost. He cited the lack of a Coast Guard permit to move forward (due to height restrictions), a pending lawsuit from a metal fabrication company in Vancouver, and strong opposition in Clark County as just some of the major cracks forming in the project. (For a good update on where the project stands, read this article in today’s edition of The Columbian)
As for the growing opposition to the CRC among Republican elected officials in Clark County, Buel said, “They’re not your bike-loving liberal democrats. We’ve been working with some of them and we call ourselves the Green Tea Party.”
meeting in Woodlawn on Saturday.
The meeting featured State Senator Chip Shields
and State Reps Tina Kotek and Lew Frederick.
Another roadblock facing the CRC that activists want to raise awareness of is the inability for the project to secure federal funds. CRC backers are looking for $850 million from the Federal Transit Administration to extend light rail into Vancouver. Buel thinks that because the closest Vancouver station is 38 minutes on the MAX to downtown Portland, it won’t be an attractive option. “So, are you going to get in your car if you live in La Center, Battle Ground, or Ridgefield and drive to one of the three big parking garages [which incidentally cost $167 million to build]?”
Buel added if C-Tran (the area’s transit authority) tries to fund the project without federal funding and from another pot of state money, it will require a vote of support from a public that recently voted 56% against light rail.
Buel also thinks getting a large federal grant to pay for the project is unlikely, given that both members of Congress that represent the project area are not big supporters. Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-SW Washington) has been very vocally opposed to it, and Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland) has remained neutral. “Thank God for Earl Blumenauer,” said Ron Buel, “He has remained neutral throughout this entire thing, he has not been an advocate for it.”
“How do you get an earmark for federal highway money if neither of the members in the district ask for it?”
Buel stressed that Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek (D-NE Portland) is the key to killing the CRC. On Saturday, Buel and several others (including noted economist Joe Cortright) had a sit-down meeting with Rep. Kotek prior to a town hall event in Woodlawn. According to a source who was at the meeting, Kotek re-affirmed her support for the CRC, saying she wants to make sure it’s “the best project possible” and saying they are working on a number of issues. (Unfortunately, the CRC was not mentioned at all during a packed town hall meeting.)
With a bill in the legislature, the clock is ticking for activists to find allies and make progress. At this point, politicians against the project have been hard to find (or to get a clear opinion from on the record). That will have to change if activists want momentum to finally shift in their favor.
— Stay tuned for more coverage.