Two years, $150 million, countless volunteer hours and the thoughts of more than 15,000 Portlanders have gone into VisionPdx, the community discussion on what Portland should look like in 2030. The report was presented to the City Council Wednesday along with five funding proposals, designed to begin making the vision come true.
Mayor Potter said he is confident the vision plan will survive his departure.
"I believe the visioning work will survive and thrive no matter who is mayor in the future," Potter said. "This document reflects what Portlanders want for their city, not what any one politician hopes to achieve. It lives in the hearts of the people in our community, and because they own it, they own its future."
Critics of the report say it is simply expensive fluff – telling us only what we already knew, that Portlanders want a green, family-friendly, diverse city with a small business on every block and a first-class education system.
However, VisionPdx has gained good reviews from minority advocacy groups such as Oregon Action and the Center for Intercultural Organizing. Both groups – who helped gather information for the survey from their target communities – said the consultation effort already has been valuable and especially so for Portland's minority residents. More than 1,500 African Americans, 1,100 Latinos, 800 Native Americans, 850 Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders completed the survey.
"It was an extremely useful process," said Kayse Jama, interim executive director for the Center for Intercultural Organizing, which surveyed more than 800 people from Portland's growing immigrant and refugee population. "It definitely had an effect on our organization. It was wonderful to get feedback from our community."
E.J. Penn, political secretary for Oregon Action agrees. "I think any time that you can open up the community to share with you their ideas and feelings for the future then that's a positive step forward," he said, "So I think it is a great first step."
Oregon Action's contribution helped formulate the ideas for education and social services. People wanted an excellent education for all children, employment opportunities, health care, affordable housing and diverse neighborhoods.
In addition, Penn said, action already is underway to tackle one longtime problem for Black and minority Portlanders.
"Of the 500 surveys, there was a very good portion of them where people were concerned about racial profiling and the different actions of the police department in the past," Penn said.
"People of color are stopped and searched at higher rates than Whites. So what we're doing is we're working together to eliminate racial profiling. We've formed a racial profiling committee made up of people from the community and we are meeting with the mayor, with city hall and the Portland Police Department. What we're doing is trying to develop a more efficient and equitable system for pullovers.
"This is part of the response to the VisionPdx survey."
Racial profiling also was a key obstacle identified by African immigrants, and also southeast Asians, said Kayse Jama. "They want to have an unbiased police force. They definitely want to protect the community but at the same time be free from racial profiling."
According to the report, African immigrants feel their children are unfairly targeted by police. Southeast Asians believe law enforcement officers incorrectly assume their teens are gang members.
About 800 immigrants and refugees took part in the survey and others attended town hall meetings. From these efforts, the Intercultural Organizing Center was able to identify the top 10 issues shared by the different immigrant and refugee groups.
"Things like, they want to have a multi-ethnic community center where immigrant and refugee communities can gather together and do cross-cultural organizing." Jama said. "The first thing that came out of it was that they want a multi-lingual, multi-cultural school system where immigrant students can truly be included. The other thing that came out of it was human rights issues."
Jama said his organization has learned a lot about the needs and aspirations of the people it serves. That knowledge has allowed the center to formulate clearer goals and expand its services.
"We started to get a clear vision and mission. It helped us focus on the specific issues that our community wants us to work on. It gave us greater visibility. And it helped us in fundraising," Jama said.
"When we started this our organization's budget was about $20,000. Today we have about $140,000 budget for this year. So for us VisionPdx became a capacity-building project."
One of the five next-step proposals facing the city council will create a Community Gathering Center that will promote cross cultural organizing. Groups that already have expressed interest in the center include: the Latino Network, Oregon Action and the Slavic coalition.
The other proposals are short-term projects that will try out some of the ideas put forward in the vision report:
Creating small parks on city-owned unimproved green spaces. Cost: $30,000 per park.
A pilot project that will help micro and small and businesses with technical assistance such as helping them find funding or get contracts. Cost: $250,000
A plan to encourage City of Portland Employees to volunteer for youth organizations. Cost: small fee to set up electronic monitoring system.
Grant program for community groups to put the Portland vision into action. Cost: $250,000 for grant program. $125,000 to staff the Vision into Action coalition.
A feasibility study to look at more efficient district heating and cooling systems that would replace individual home or business heating and cooling.
Ty Kovich, chief of Staff for Commissioner Randy Leonards, said Leonard will back the proposals, which put some substance behind the rosy words in the report. But, he says, the council must also be willing to make hard decisions, such as revoking contracts that fail to meet minority hiring obligations. Kovich said Leonard last week insisted on sending back such a contract , but other commissioners were reluctant to hold the contractor, Marsh, to it's responsibilities.
"If you want to expand minorities access to employment and education and contracts you have to make sure that it's not just words," Kovich said.
"So the vision report – its words are excellent. It captures the absolute spirit of what we need to do and then it's going to be a matter of whether the council continuously presses the issue and practices what they preach... Instead of finding excuses and reasons for why it didn't happen with this particular contractor and other contractors.
"So visionPdx — It's words right now. The spirit of it is great. It's a matter of the mayor and the council members wanting to deliver the nuts and bolts that aren't sexy and aren't sound bites into action."