Mayoral candidates sound off on transportation at big debate

Mayoral candidates sound off on transportation at big debate

Portland Mayor Debate-2.jpg

Eight candidates for Portland Mayor on stage at Revolution Hall last night.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Eight Portland mayoral candidates met at Revolution Hall Monday night in a debate that was supposed to happen, then wasn’t, then did anyway.

The odd background: The Oregonian called the debate and promoted it for weeks, but restricted it only to two candidates (Jules Bailey and Ted Wheeler). After protesters threatened to disrupt the event, The Oregonian changed course and said it would close the debate to the public to prevent possible violence. That led Bailey and Wheeler to bail, at which point The Oregonian’s editorial board accused those two candidates of lacking “courage”. Then Wheeler suggested to Revolution Hall that they host a debate anyway and invite all the candidates. Eight showed up.

Beth Slovic of Willamette Week, Israel Bayer of Street Roots and Jefferson Smith of XRAY.fm (a former mayoral candidate himself) volunteered to moderate.

And transportation was a pretty big topic.

Among other things that happened: one candidate (Sarah Iannarone) called in her closing statement for us to move gradually toward a car-free downtown. Another (Wheeler) suggested cutting service from the downtown Portland Streetcar to improve transit in East Portland. A third (Bailey) said the city’s top-priority transportation challenge is safety. And virtually every candidate on the stage seemed to agree that Portland needed to increase its supply of central-city housing by re-legalizing garden apartments, duplexes and triplexes in residential zones.

Before sharing how the candidates answered questions, we figured it’d be worthwhile to share photos of each one. After all, last night was just as much about the people running for mayor as it was about the issues:

In order from how they sat on stage last night:

Deborah Harris

Portland Mayoral Debate

Jules Bailey

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Sean Davis

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Ted Wheeler

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Bim Ditson

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Sarah Iannarone

Portland Mayoral Debate

Jessie Sponberg

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David Schor

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Here are some selections of what candidates said on transportation and related subjects. Not every candidate is listed for every question because I didn’t catch a policy proposal in every answer. I also omitted answers and issues that echoed things most other people on stage were saying. And of course there was discussion of a lot of important issues that aren’t as closely linked to transportation; those answers are omitted here too. (The full video is below.)

What can the city do about global warming?

David Schor: “We’ve got to have environmentally conscious building. … We need our city to set the example for our community by investing in green technology, fuel efficiency and electric vehicles.”

Deborah Harris: We need to increase education so more people know that it is a problem and what they can do.

Bailey: Home weatherization gives the highest bang for buck while creating well-paying blue-collar jobs.

Wheeler: “We don’t want to be a fossil fuel exporter. … We invented green building here in this city … it is still our brand nationally and globally.”

Iannarone: “The number-one thing we can do is keep Portland compact. We maintain our boundary, we continue to grow efficiently.”

What is the city’s biggest transportation problem and how would you fix it as mayor?*

(*We submitted this question! Thanks to Beth Slovic at Willamette Week for asking it.)

Bim Ditson: “I don’t think there’s a single biggest. i do think there are things we can look at to reduce traffic. … It’s been shown by almost every major city in the world that moving away from cars beenfits everyone’s safety and everyone’s mobility. … I would definitely be an advocate for expanded bike lanes. I would look at getting bikes away from cars so they don’t get hit by them.”

Iannarone (answering immediately after): “He’s 100 percent right on those fronts. We need to press for more money. … The gas tax is a road to nowhere; we know those can’t sustain but we’re going to have to come up with more money. … Making streets that work for everyone and not continue to subsidize the automobile any further because it is killing us.”

Schor: “We need to make some huge investments in bike infrastructure to make biking a priority. We need to focus on preventing displacement. we need to make sure that people can continue to live in the inner city.”

Harris: “Encourage employers, when they have different locations for businesses, try to encourage their employees to relocate closer to their work.”

Bailey: “Congestion is obviously a problem, maintenance is obviously a problem. But you asked about our biggest problem, and that has got to be safety. The stretch of 122nd …. is one of the most dangerous in the nation. … We need a better transit system with better rubber-tire bus service.”

Davis: “We need to increase density. If we have more density downtown and more people living downtown, we’re not going to have people using transportation as much.”

Wheeler: He said the city lacks adequate public transit. On biking, he said, “we need two things”: separated bike lanes and continued investment in the neighborhood greenway network, which he described as “cost effective” and “a way to support commmunities that don’t currently have parks.”

Will you support bus passes for all PDX high schoool students?

Every candidate raised their hand.

Along with simply building more, what can be done to improve renter protections in the housing market?

Bailey: “We have a housing crisis in Portland. … It’s too hard to find a place to be able to call your own. … We need more supply but it’s not just about more supply. … We need more protections to renters. We need to focus on limiting the reasons that people can be evicted from their homes. … We need longer notice.”

Davis: “I would like to look into licensing people who own buildings, just like I have to have a license when I own a business.”

Wheeler: The city needs a “just-cause evictions policy similar to that was just in Seattle” and “an office that makes it clear to landlords what their legal obligations are and what tenants legal rights are, and has both the enforcement capability and the ability to give penalties to people who violate the existing laws.”





Ditson: “Every rental agreement should come with an easily digestible pamphlet that tells people what their rights are. … Whether we stack on more housing or not, we need more inclusionary zoning.” Ditson said (seemingly inaccurately, as of last week) that “right now it seems like the state’s not going to do that” and called on the city to defy the state’s bans on rent control and inclusionary zoning and test them in court.

Jessie Sponberg: “We make a one-time fee you pay to the city” for a credit and background check instead of paying the same $50 to every landlord, he said. He added: “Inclusionary zoning. Who doesn’t love a good duplex and triplex?”

Schor: “We need landlord registration … [and] something that would approximate the rent control and inclusionary zoning that we are preempted from doing at the state level.”

Harris: First we need to ask, “Why are they being evicted? Affordable housing, gentrification. … Why are the houses unaffordable? because they’re having to move out.”

How can we improve policing?

Among many other suggestions on this subject, both Wheeler and Bailey called for police to get “out of their cars and on the streets” in order to better connect to the community.

How can we increase affordable housing in the city?

Wheeler: “Change the zoning. … In parts of the city, garden apartments are not legal. We’re not allowed to have duplexes except on the corners. … We’ve got to ensure that the city’s processes for affordable housing aren’t stepping on the air-hose of new supply.” Wheeler also called for the city, state and county to eliminate barriers to building accessory dwelling units.

Ditson: “We need to put in multifamily units; the way that we do that has to be community-driven. … We have to ask the people who are there how should we build these.” He called for a “cookie-cutter system to have developers come in and build the right thing instead of having no guidelines for them to come in and build the wrong thing.”

Iannarone: “Increasing supply everywhere is going to be key. … Bonding against future stock with public housing. We need to call it what it is and we need to bond against it right now while it’s cheaper.”

Sponberg: He pointed out that according to Zillow there are “700 bank-owned homes” in the city. “Somehow this country allowed the banks to steal these houses from these families.”

Schor: The most important thing we can do for housing, he said, is to raise money for subsidizing more public housing, including with a new income tax on the top 1% of income earners.

Bailey: A “dedicated revenue stream for affordable housing” with the property tax endorsed by the Welcome Home Coalition; “duplexes, triplexes, garden home apartments” and “we need to have owner-occupied structures – housing that is affordable to working families.”

Davis: “30 seconds for the most important issue that we have in Portland?” He said the power to make housing affordable rests with individuals, who he said should attend their neighborhood association meetings and “go and tell them what you want.”

How can we improve public transit?

Iannarone: We should ensure that bus rapid transit planned on SE Powell and Division doesn’t create gentrification, she said. Iannarone also said she would like to “get engaged in regional issues” by attending JPACT and MPAC meetings at Metro, committees on which the city’s transportation commissioner sits but does not always attend.

Wheeler: “When we have the streetcar in downtown portland getting as much resource as it would take to put transit throughout East Portland … our priorities are not straight. … I was a co-author of the East Portland Action Plan, along with Jeff Merkley and Mayor Tom Potter. … If I’m elected, it comes off the shelf and we’re going to act.”

Bailey: Though the city doesn’t control TriMet, “the mayor has a bully pulpit” on mass transit issues, Bailey said. He called for new revenue that could hold down fares. “We have a model that is based on payroll taxes and user fees and it drives up the cost. We have to have leadership to change that.”

Schor: “Public transit is a pretty big part of what makes Portland so special. … Right now it’s actually more effective for a lot of folks to drive downtown and park rather than take the bus. That is wrong.”

There was one more notable bit of transportation talk, and it came in Iannarone’s closing statement, in which she said she decided to run because “we need a vision. This is no time for resting on laurels or complacency.” Here’s what she said:

I don’t hear anyone saying what Portland is going to be the best at. Portland is going to be the most livable city on Earth. And we can do this. We have to make sure that what we’re doing works for everyone here. And what does that look like? I think it looks like dreaming big. Can we have a car-free downtown? Yes. Compact walkable neighborhoods all over this city from edge to edge, not just in the Pearl? Yes. Can we have trees? Yes. Clean water? Yes. Let’s do it all. An anti-racist police force — let’s do it. Let’s go back to being Portland again.

Overall it seemed like the event was a success — especially given the circumstances leading up to it. The crowd was energized and so were the candidates. And while there weren’t any back-and-forth exchanges or in-depth follow-up questions, the value was in hearing more voices, new ideas, and seeing how the candidates handled themselves. Who won this debate? That’s easy. Portland did.

Here’s the full video, courtesy of Willamette Week:

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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