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Neighborhood system a resource for positive change

In this, part two of Lee Perlman’s series on Mid-county neighborhood associations, he details what it is a neighborhood association can and can’t do for you


As one community activist put it, Portland neighborhood associations are the actors who work on problems of neighborhood livability, small and large. Neighborhood office staffs are the stagehands that help them do it. So it is across the city, generally.

However, exactly how the system works can vary with each area. Neighborhood associations, even those geographically next to each other, can have vastly different levels of activity, agendas, and methods of carrying them out. They also change over time depending on who are serving as board members and officers, and what is happening in the area around them. With that in mind, here is a snapshot of northern East Portland for late 2002.

East Portland Neighborhood Office
Located at 735 Southeast 106th Avenue, next to East Precinct, the office has five staff members: director Richard Bixby, community outreach specialist Jim Gladson, administrative assistant Becky Hughes, and crime prevention specialists Roseanne Lee and Teri Poppino.

Probably the three biggest functions the staff serves are the printing and mailing of newsletters and flyers for the 13 neighborhoods the office serves, the organizing of Neighborhood Watch networks to prevent crime, and information and referral to callers. Speaking to this last Bixby says, “With just about any questions people have about city services, we can direct them to the right place.” They can also, themselves, offer basic information about land use and zoning, although generally in this area they refer people to their neighborhood association for help. Likewise, in addition to organizing the crime prevention networks, workers help the flow of information: by directing people to the right public agencies, or the right people within the Portland Police Bureau, “We make sure that important information is going to the right people,” Bixby says.

The office allocates a limited budget for the printing and mailing of newsletters and flyers among the associations based on the size of their populations. Often they produce the mailers as well as send them out. They can type up critical documents such as official letters for volunteers too busy to do it for themselves, and can even do some limited clerical support, such as copying and faxing for individuals working on public projects.

In the summer, the office often helps people through the red tape involved in getting streets temporarily shut off for block parties. The office has city forms for such procedures, and with the consent of the affected neighborhood association can extend the use of its insurance policy, meeting one of the prerequisites for such closures.

The office sponsors monthly meetings of the neighborhood chairs or their representatives. “It’s a great thing because it brings us together and gives us a chance to share information,” Parkrose Heights chair Carol Williams says. Sometimes city commissioners visit the gatherings, and can give and receive advice on how things should be done. The group can also make such suggestions to Bixby and his staff, and although they are technically city employees answering to the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, they take such input seriously.

One of the oldest organized groups in East Portland, Hazelwood is also one of the most active. They hold a seat on the Opportunity Gateway Advisory Committee, and advocate for community needs. For instance, at a recent citywide conference, chair Arlene Kimura, said Hazelwood agreed with city goals to make the area more pedestrian-friendly - but that imposing new regulations too harshly on existing businesses, or even on new firms before transit and pedestrian facilities are in place, is a recipe for blight. Hazelwood is also reviewing Portland Adventist Hospital’s proposed master plan update (see article this issue.)

The association reviews land use requests and new liquor license applications - “because the city and the (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) ask for our opinion, we at least look at them,” Kimura says. Peter Deyoe, Hazelwood’s livability committee chair, responds to “livability” problems, often parking congestion issues, by individual residents.

Argay Terrace
To hear chair Renee King tell it, the Argay Terrace Neighborhood Association’s secret of success is to find itself a live one and turn him/her loose. “We ask each potential board member to define their area of interest,” King says. If they are interested in land use, they might be set to tracking new land use applications. A Livability specialist who becomes aware of a neighbor with a problem might “make a phone call, pay a visit, arrange for mediation,” or do whatever else is needed. In the area of traffic control, “If we notice a particularly bad situation, we might ask the police to do extra patrol,” King says. “Right now there’s a terrible speeding problem on Shaver.” They have also persuaded the city to install No Truck signs on certain streets, and initiated traffic calming projects. Still other areas of interest are crime prevention and parks.

As a group they have held events designed to “bring people together or beautify the neighborhood.” These have included National Night Out picnics, garage sales, the sale of coupon books benefiting local businesses, and progressive dinners. These last activities involve bringing together several households, each of which invites neighbors in to sample one dish. (One such venture attracted 50 households.) They have hosted candidate fairs and informational meetings about topical issues, such as a proposed new jail. They hold general meetings four times a year -advertised by newsletters sent to all households - at which they try to have speakers on topics of interest.

They attend East Portland Chairs meetings “sporadically,” King says, but keep up with what the group is doing. They find the neighborhood office a valuable resource. “The catch is that each of these activities is contingent upon finding someone willing to be responsible for making it happen. One year, to the chagrin of many neighbors, they skipped their annual garage sale because no one was willing to take charge of it. Activities in the past have happened because someone was willing to do them,” King says. “They don’t happen magically on their own.”

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