Mayoral candidate David Schor: The BikePortland Interview

Mayoral candidate David Schor: The BikePortland Interview

Portland mayor candidate David Schor-3.jpg

David Schor in the BikePortland office March 24. He’s pushing for a government that offers more or better services, starting with affordable housing, and charges higher taxes to provide them.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Every mayoral candidate talks about helping low-income renters. But only David Schor has a plan for raising enough money to do so in a major way.

“It would just be a shame if all the work that Portlanders put into building this beautiful city were put to waste because we couldn’t afford to live here.”
— David Schor

The concept Schor describes as the “central plank” of his campaign is a $200 million program to build affordable housing in the city for lower-income Portlanders. He’d pay for it with an 8 percent marginal income tax on all income over $350,000. He says about 2,000 to 6,000 households would pay each year: literally the city’s top 1 percent.

He wants to use that money to gradually transition to something like 15 or 20 percent of the city’s housing being owned by the public, which he sees as a model successful in many cities outside the United States. He’d combine this with a raft of other tenant-support measures like community land trusts and support for tenant-led advocacy and organizing.

“If we allow us to be taken out one by one, we will — we’ll all be displaced one by one,” Schor said in a March 24 interview with BikePortland. “It would just be a shame if all the work that Portlanders put into building this beautiful city were put to waste because we couldn’t afford to live here, [if the city] were handed off to a completely different set of people that didn’t make that investment themselves.”

For better or worse, lower-income housing is clearly Schor’s main issue. It’s not that he’s uninformed about other things — as much as any candidate in the race, he’s built an understanding of how local government policies work and can hold forth calmly on everything from tax increment financing to racial profiling. But outside his core area, Schor gets weaker on describing an actual course of action. He admits that he has no clear road map to preventing Portland roads from crumbling and no specific understanding of where or how to build the singletrack he thinks the city needs. (Schor’s deepest personal connection to biking is mountain-bike recreation.)

Still, Schor isn’t a one-issue candidate. He has strong opinions about transportation, for one thing, and a clear sense of how it fits into a successful city.

Here at BikePortland, we didn’t originally intend to include Schor on our list of mayoral interviews, instead drawing the line at the three candidates (Jules Bailey, Sarah Iannarone and Ted Wheeler) who have raised enough cash to hire dedicated campaign staff. But after seeing him in two debates and hearing from several readers, we decided Schor was worth talking to as well.

Here’s what we learned from the conversation:

Like every candidate we’ve spoken with, Schor supports the proposed 10-cent gas tax ballot issue even though he feels it raises only a “drop in the bucket” of the city’s needs for biking and walking infrastructure. “It has the potential to be regressive,” he said, “but is also similar to a carbon tax, so on balance I think it’s a good way to go forward.”

Like every candidate we’ve spoken with, Schor says safety should be the top priority guiding road investments, starting with safety for people walking and biking. “We need to make the investment in east Portland that we have not been making for the last 30 years,” he said. “It’s a safety thing, and east Portland is where the safety problems are the worst, so it’s obviously where the investment needs to be focused.” Schor says there should still be room for targeted investments in bike infrastructure elsewhere; he mentioned Barbur and Terwilliger as places in need of it.

Schor lives in a six-plex near Clinton Street in southeast Portland. He’s a fan of the new traffic diverter near his place. “It’s great,” he said. “I don’t take the same route that I used to drive; I have to turn on specific streets to get to my house from different directions, but I’m totally fine with that, because I see the manifest improvement for people who are biking on that street and I know how important that arterial is for people who are commuting in and out of downtown Portland. It’s a very good tradeoff and it’s making the best use of our existing infrastructure. … There’s going to be some places where we slow the [driving] system down, but the more that that motivates people to get on transit and on bikes and walk around, then the more we’re achieving our purpose.”

More firmly than anyone we’ve talked to, Schor opposes the Portland Development Commission funding itself by building parking garages. “It just seems like a perverse incentive” for the government to keep encouraging driving, he said. Because he feels the PDC’s current revenue system — tax increments from urban renewal areas — focus intense investment on particular areas, he thinks it should possibly cease to exist despite its past effectiveness at raising money for projects like as Portland Streetcar.

On neighborhood parking issues, Schor is uneasy about charging for street parking because “my understanding is the actual permit charges could get pretty steep pretty fast.” But he said he supports “rationing parking spaces” with pricing, perhaps using a sliding scale by income to prevent housing displacement.

He supports shifting the 9.5 million of Metro regional flex funds currently spent on freight toward walking and biking infrastructure — though he confused Metro with Multnomah County as the agency in charge of that money.

Portland mayor candidate David Schor-1.jpg

On his affordable housing income tax, Schor says he doesn’t think many wealthy people would move out of Portland rather than pay it. “They understand the value of what they would be getting for the money,” Schor said. “A lot of people who would have already left town for tax burden reasons have already left.” In any case, he said, he’s open to other suggestions, but feels that he’s the only candidate proposing a revenue stream large enough to actually solve the housing problem for poor Portlanders.

For middle-income Portlanders and market-rate housing, Schor says the main solution is more housing supply, starting with changing development fee structures and other policies to incentivize more buildings like the six-plex he lives in. But he balks at that level of development in the city’s widespread R5 zones, saying it’s a better fit in R1 and R2.5 zones.

Schor seems to know policing issues better than many, having worked as a lawyer for the ACLU and Oregon Justice Resource Center. He says disproportionate police stops of Portlanders of color, which statistics show fall even harder on people biking or walking, is “totally inappropriate” but that “right now we’re basically blind” because the Portland Police Bureau doesn’t collect detailed enough statistics about where and who the problem is coming from. Most police do a good job, he says: “It’s a small percentage that is doing most of the discriminatory enforcement.”

Schor has maybe the sweetest part-time job of anyone in the race: in addition to working as an assistant attorney general for the Oregon Department of Justice, he picks up seasonal shifts at Mount Hood Meadows snowboarding around to locations on Mount Hood to check out the conditions there.

Schor’s first bike was a Huffy BMX that he got while growing up in Corvallis. He upgraded to a 10-speed as a teen and began using a bike for transportation after that. Though he has sometimes commuted by bike in the past, his most recent ride was on the Springwater Corridor in summer 2015.

If you’d like to hear our full one-hour exchange with Schor, check it out below:

We won’t be taking four hours to do a full transcript of the talk with Schor. And despite the many other candidates also saying remarkably progressive things about transportation, Schor will be our last big sit-down interview before the primary. This’ll give us the time to do the play-by-play election coverage that will keep people informed.

Election Day is May 17. If no candidate gets more than half the vote, the top vote-winners will advance to the general election in November.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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