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Twin Cities

Unlike us, Portland’s fixing its problems

By Jeff Harris
August 2023

Portland and Sacramento have many similarities. Portland is often about two years ahead of us in development and addressing problems, but we can gain insight from how Portland’s city commission reacts to municipal realities.

The two cities are alike in history, economic development and geography. Both have agricultural roots, comparable populations and two rivers. Both have chronic homelessness and divisions among city leadership. Some councilmembers want to defund police.

We both suffered looting and violence after George Floyd’s murder in 2020. Both experienced economic decline, rising housing costs and rampant homeless squalor. The pandemic left both city councils scrambling for solutions. Members became more polarized.

Portland was one of the most progressive cities in the nation. Councilmembers Jo Ann Hardesty and Dan Ryan pushed ordinances to defund police. They opposed clearing homeless camps. Other councilmembers followed.

They ignored the frustrations of residents and business owners. Citizens watched their beloved city fall apart. Portland became crime-ridden and overrun by camps.

Sound familiar?

In the 2022 election, Ryan reversed positions and was re-elected. Hardesty lost to Rene Gonzalez, who said, “Our once beautiful city is struggling in ways that were unfathomable a short time ago. City Hall’s ideologically driven policies are ruining the city we used to proudly call home.”

A progressive activist was replaced by a centrist.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler proposed a plan to ban unsanctioned homeless camps. Progressive activists called it “harmful and counterproductive.” Eighty percent of the public approved. Today Portland is cleaning up. It looks a new era.

Here at home, we have similar problems.

We have progressive councilmembers eager to defund police. They object to enforcing ordinances against camping and cleaning up homelessness.

At this year’s budget hearings, Councilmembers Katie Valenzuela, Caity Maple and Mai Vang voted against the budget. They said the police allotment—about 35% of the general fund—was too high.

Maple wanted $6 million diverted from police to the department of community response, even though police are substantially understaffed. Thankfully, she failed.

When I was on City Council, Valenzuela and Mayor Darrell Steinberg tried to stop me from clearing crime-ridden homeless camps in my district. I prevailed, but it was a fight. Problems continue now that I’m gone and no one represents my former neighborhoods, thanks to redistricting.

District Attorney Thien Ho called on City Council to pass a resolution to enforce camping ordinances. He said, “Just because you’re unsheltered doesn’t mean that you can break the law.” He might sue the city to clean up Downtown homeless camps.

What can we learn from Portland? For starters, who you elect can greatly impact the safety and livability of your city.
In next year’s elections, my vote will go to candidates who are centrist and frugal problem solvers. I’m done with narrow-minded ideologies.

Our city can—must—change for the better. Nothing speaks louder than your vote.

For more on Thien Ho’s warning to City Council, see the Publisher’s Desk column by Cecily Hastings in this edition.
Jeff Harris represented District 3 on City Council from 2014 to 2022. He can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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