Here are some of my core priorities as a City Councilor. They are the result of years of research and advocacy by groups like Portland Forward, Participatory Budgeting Oregon, and many others. These changes are high impact because they affect many policy areas at the same time, create new possibilities for future policies, and improve our ability to make any kind of policies in the future. That's how I know they'll help Portland achieve its place among the world's happiest, healthiest, and safest cities as quickly as possible.
I know from years talking with Portlanders through the neighborhood association, but also from data available through the Portland Insight's Survey that the issues most important to Portlanders are homelessness, affordable housing, safer streets, and preparing for climate change and environmental threats. We need to take specific, immediate action on these issues. And we also need to invest in our ability to see past them, into the further future, in a way that allows us to build our imagination, hope, and vision for the Portland our children deserve.
From now on, twelve city councilors will share authority over Portland's government. 635,000 people live here. That's one city councilor for every 52,000 people. How will they know what Portlanders need and want? Elections happen every two years. That's very limited feedback in a world where the pace of change accelerates daily. When the world is changing faster than councilors can write legislation, they need more help knowing what to prioritize. Here are three ways I'll ensure that Portlanders get a real say in shaping the city where they live.
- Community Budgets
Did you know that Portland is the only major West-coast city without any form of participatory budgeting? This process gives residents direct control over how to spend a portion of the city's budget. Community budgets will empower neighborhoods to identify and fund local projects that matter most to them, be it programs to serve people without houses, increase community safety, prepare for climate change, or anything else they can imagine.
This bottom-up approach not only increases civic engagement but also ensures that we use our resources in ways that directly benefit and reflect the needs of our communities. It is also a powerful way to give real control to Portlanders that have been excluded from decision-making for decades, and protect against this kind of exclusion in the future.
- Reimagining Neighborhood Associations
Our diverse neighborhoods are one of the things that make Portland unique. Neighborhood associations can be a vital part of that. At their best, they act as a bridge between the city council and the community, providing a platform to gather local voices and address local issues.
My goal is to strengthen the associations through better support and resources, ensuring they have the tools to represent their communities effectively. We can help neighbors come together and engage in their communities more deeply by modernizing and reimagining the role of neighborhood associations to serve them better.
- Public Bank of Portland
Establishing a Public Bank of Portland is about investing in our city's future. This bank would work to finance local projects, like affordable housing and renewable energy initiatives, which traditional banks often overlook. With a focus on public welfare rather than profit, a public bank can offer lower interest rates and direct financial benefits back into our community, fostering local growth and sustainability. Finance is an invisible cost of doing anything productive in our communities, but a public bank gives us more control and more options that benefit us directly.
Policy platforms only make sense when we know how to say that they're working. How do we know that some new policy makes the city safer, happier, more comfortable, or more just? When can we tell? The new city council is an opportunity to set a high standard for how Portland makes legislation. Here are three ways I'll ensure that any new policies are working for us.
- Accountability Clauses
How do we know that policies are having their intended effect on Portland? To begin with, we need to say what we want them to do. That's why every new law and policy should include an accountability clause that states how to tell if it's working and what to do if it's not.
Scientific journals and academia are already using this strategy to limit bias in research and make experiments easier to understand. Portland can use the same approach to guarantee that our policies do what we mean, that anyone can understand what policies are for, and that we all know what will happen if they don't.
- Baseline Experiments
Even when policies work, we want to know if they could be better. We can only know if policies are good enough when we have a baseline point of comparison. USAID now deploys many of its interventions with an experimental control of direct cash payments so that they have something to compare their ideas against.
That's what using the tools of science, statistics, and economics to design a functioning city looks like. We should implement policies alongside baseline experimental controls to maximize the impact of new legislation.
- Progress Reports
Portland City Council already has the ability to ask voters questions on ballots. For example, they could ask "on a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend that your friends and family move to Portland next year?" or "Would you rather expand the I-5 by one lane into Vancouver, or have a subway system tunneled below the river to connect the east and west side?".
This is an incredibly useful tool for gauging public sentiment and understanding public priorities that has never been used before. That's why I would commit to designing a "progress report" system of questions that could be added to ballots during every cycle to better understand our successes and opportunities as a city.
Being Smart with Money
Being the healthiest, happiest, safest city in the world requires being smart with money. We only want to use our limited resources on things that realize our shared vision of a better Portland. Here are four examples of things we can do right now that use resources effectively to get big wins.
- Eliminate Traffic Deaths
Did you know Hoboken, New Jersey, hasn't had a traffic fatality in over four years? Sixty-three people died in traffic accidents in Portland last year. By learning from their example, we can fulfill the promise of Vision Zero immediately and reclaim the streets for Portlanders.
- Addressing the Addiction Crisis Effectively
Did you know that Oregon ranks among the lowest of all states on the perceived danger of substance abuse? Should it surprise us then that we rank among the highest in suffering from addiction and needing help? While people suffering the most need us to spend resources helping them now, intervention and recovery are also the most expensive pillars of addiction response.
Not only that, but these interventions take place way too late after people have already suffered too much. Spending money on education and prevention is an example of a smart use of money that the city can control today. We could be helping people avoid addiction in the first place by collaborating with schools and public transit on educational programs and campaigns.
- Expanding Portland Street Response
Portland Street Response can easily use ten times the resources it currently recieves. Expanding Street Response will pay off in many ways. More responders means more access to the help we actually want and need when we need it. It means growing a culture in Portland of safety, investment, and compassion.
It means that armed officers will be recruited less often into situations where weapons are not helpful, so that they are more available for situations where they might be. That's why I'm committed to expanding Portland Street Response, not just a little, but by an order of magnitude, to make it part of the city's identity and rebuild trust.
- Connecting Transportation to Affordable Housing
Walking, biking, and transit are the way that cities and communities thrive. When you go on vacation, you go places that are a joy to be a pedestrian. Why shouldn't we live somewhere like that?
Transit infrastructure is only meaningful when it's easy to reach from things people use, like attractive places to work, live, and play. And a connection to these things is a big part of what we mean when we say we want more affordable housing. We don't just need structures that fall within a theoretical budget. We need housing that allows our communities to thrive, our ideas to prosper, and our neighbors to stay their whole lives. This is only possible when bureaus work together to plan expansion strategically.
That's why the city should be working with TriMet to purchase and develop unused land or abandoned infrastructure as part of a new, holistic approach to designing the city. We should be emulating ambitious and forward-thinking programs like Barcelona's SuperBlocks to ensure that we build the city around public transportation, not the other way around.
A city of 650,000 people is a complex place. Running an efficient city requires many more things than can be listed on a webpage or even pursued in a single person's lifetime. You may have urgent priorities or exciting ideas that you don't see described here. Or you might be more used to thinking about policies in traditional pillars like housing, climate change, safety, and transportation. That makes sense! I could also list many other things that I find urgent and exciting, from protecting our tree canopy, to making it safer and more fun to ride bikes, to connecting North Portland more effectively to the rest of the city, to upgrading the HVAC in our schools and public buildings to minimize dangerous exposure, and much more. That diversity is a big part of Portland's grand future.
This diversity is also exactly why I've prioritized these specific changes. These changes make our efforts in any area of policy easier, more inclusive, and more likely to succeed than we would be without them. I'm running because I believe in your ideas, our neighborhoods, and in people's willingness to work together when we give them a chance. Empowering communities to define their priorities, understand the available resources, and implement their solutions allows us to elevate all priorities in their hour of need. Making new laws and budgets easier to understand, evaluate, and learn from enables all Portlanders to participate in realizing their shared vision. That's my vision for Portland one, ten, and fifty years from now.
These changes are the surest way to address whatever problems we may face together, because they use the most powerful resource we have: each other.