Willamette Greenway path north of Steel Bridge closed “until further notice” – UPDATED

Willamette Greenway path north of Steel Bridge closed “until further notice” – UPDATED

Willamette Greenway path closed

Property manager says nearby camp makes path access unsafe for residents
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

About one-third of a mile of the Willamette Greenway Trail between the Steel and Broadway Bridges is now closed and locked behind a gate with posted signs that read, “Greenway Closed: Detour to Naito Parkway.” This is not an official closure and it’s unclear whether the people who closed it have the legal right to do so.

I confirmed the closure this morning after receiving two tips yesterday from people who were concerned about it. The company that manages the McCormick Pier Condominiums, Community Management Inc., says the McCormick Pier Board of Directors decided at their meeting on January 18th to close the path because of what they refer to as “unsafe homeless activity under the Steel Bridge.” They say the path will be closed, “until further notice.”

Here’s the flyer they’ve posted in common area near the condo’s parking lot:

Willamette Greenway path closed


Here’s the salient part of the notice:

“There has been an increased problem this past year with persons camping under the Steel Bridge and causing security, maintenance, health, and safety issues to McCormick Pier property and residents. The pictures [in the notice] show just a fraction of the damage at McCormick Pier. The police cannot respond the way the should be able to with the Mayors new “stand down” order for anything to do with the homeless or their dogs.

There is no one left to call and it is simply not safe.”

In a separate notice also posted by CMI, they say the closure was needed, “due to unsafe homeless activity under the Steel Bridge.” “We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause,” continues the notice, “however the Assocation is working hard to keep McCormick Pier as safe as possible during this unfortunate situation.”

In addition to urging people to contact Portland Mayor Charlie Hales’ office, CMI wants residents to send them documented incidents they’ve experienced or witnessed, “in order to present a united front to the appropriate authorities and ask that they take immediate action to remove the campsites and clean up the park.”

People have slept along the path just south of the McCormick Pier Condominiums at the western end of the Steel Bridge for many years. But in the past few months, a full-fledged camp has sprouted up. There are currently many people living on both sides of the path as it approaches the McCormick property.

Willamette Greenway path closed

The camp just south of McCormick Pier Condominiums looking east from NW Naito Parkway.
Willamette Greenway path closed

Looking south from the southern end of the McCormick property.
Willamette Greenway path closed

View from behind the locked gate toward the path with the camp and Naito Parkway in the background.

Michael Morrison rides this section of the path regularly. He contacted us via email yesterday and said he understands the concerns about the encampment but that decision to close it, “is not a very civil response.” “A more nuanced response is needed,” he added.

As we reported with a similar situation on the Springwater, Mayor Hales is no longer enforcing camping bans in Portland until there are enough places for everyone to live.

While the City of Portland maintains an easement in front of the McCormick Pier condos, the homeowners association took over official maintenance responsibilities in 2002. In 2010 they used that authority to close the trail to fix damage caused by erosion; but it’s unclear whether they have the right to close the path for something as vague as “unsafe homeless activity.”

What is clear from this closure is that CMI wants to use the closure to pressure the Mayor’s Office to do more to address the camp that’s sprung up just a few dozen feet from their property line. But their move might have crossed a line if they continue to prohibit access to a path the public has a legal right to use.

Many people ride this section of the path because the option is riding next to auto traffic on Naito. This path is also popular for walking and running.

Parks bureau spokesman Mark Ross confirmed for us this morning that the existing trail easement requires CMI to maintain public access from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm. He says Parks is currently inquiring with the Portland Police Bureau to find out if they advised CMI to close the path out of a concern for public safety. If that’s not the case, Parks will likely ask CMI to re-open the path immediately. Ross also said he’s not aware of any specific citizen complaints that have been made around this area.

We’ve contacted CMI for comment but have yet to hear back. We’ll update this post when we do.

UPDATE, 12:24 pm: Lisa Campbell with Community Management Inc. has gotten back to me. She said the McCormick Pier Board of Directors plans to keep the path closed, “Until the mayor pays attention and figures out what to do down there.” Campbell says she’s received about 20 complaints from condo owners in the past week. She said people have had cars broken into and one owner was “assaulted” when he confronted a man stealing a package off his porch.

I asked Campbell if she or any of the board members had tried to talk with the people who live in the camps. She said there has been some interactions, but most people are likely afraid because of how aggressive she says many of the campers have become. Campbell said the Oregon Department of Transportation was monitoring the area and cleaning it up from time-to-time but has recently stopped doing that because the area has become unsafe. “There are some aggressive people over there,” Campbell said, “You’re not going to just hang out with them.”

Campbell said they’d love to open the path, but until “the Board sees some action to clean this up and get some enforcement” they’ll keep it closed. So you’re holding the path hostage? I asked. “Yeah. Kind of,” she replied.

UPDATE, 1:25 pm: Just off the phone with Mayor Hales. He said he’s going to demand that McCormick Pier Condiminiums re-open the path immediately. “I want you to know that I’m not going to permit people to take public right-of-way hostage for political purposes… They just unilaterally occupied this public right-of-way.” Hales went on to share his recent actions to deal with the homeless and housing problems plaguing Portland which include 275 new shelter beds in the past three months and $67 million invested in affordable housing. “We’ve moved quickly to make a difference,” he said.

When I asked him specifically about the issue of homeless camps that are adjacent to transportation corridors like the Willamette Greenway and Springwater paths, he said his office is trying to get all city bureaus on the same page. “We understand that unmanaged homeless camps, unpoliced homeless camps can cause livability problems. That’s why we’re authorizing sweeps and clean-ups when necessary. No one should get the impression that they can just do whatever they want. However, in the short-run, while we’re moving to radically increase shelter space, there are going to be people camping outside. That’s a fact of life. We’re going to make sure that it’s done in a responsible way and where peoples’ safety is assured… both the safety of people in the neighborhood, people who pass through these transportation corridors, and the people in the camps.”

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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