The first question to Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan rang with emotion at an August 22 town hall at the Kenton Fire Station courtyard.
Neighbor Linda Wysong cited recent news coverage showing how “third graders who have grown up within two miles of Portland International Raceway had a 6% decline in their standardized test scores“ and how can Ryan continue to allow PIR to use leaded fuel?
Ryan responded that he inherited the Bureau of Parks & Recreation and its PIR responsibilities in January from Commissioner Carmen Rubio, andonly then learned of the health threat of leaded gas from race cars.
Since then he has researched strategies and in a meeting last Friday with staff and State Rep. Travis Nelson, D-North Portland, decided to officially request the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to perform objective testing on leaded gas fumes. “Any claims by DEQ that they don’t have the capacity to do so,” Ryan said, “will be unacceptable.”
The commissioner added that planes from the Portland International Airport and some trucks also use leaded fuel contributing to the health issue. “That’s why we need a comprehensive study from DEQ,” Ryan said.
Ryan’s announcement didn’t stop the skeptics in the audience of 80 people, but his decision is a major departure from past parks commissioners who have sided with the race car industry over North Portland neighbors for decades.
PIR critic Laura Feldman added a comment on the health effects of excessive PIR race car noise. “Every summer I have to leave my apartment at least ten times because of the noise, it is so loud,” she said.
Neighbor Michael Brown brought up another major issue, asking why the city couldn’t shift a few million dollars from the $50 million to build the scheduled Aquatic Center at Northgate Park, to instead be used to restore the now-closed Columbia Park Pool. Brown quoted a previous North Peninsula Review story citing private engineers who believed that the pool could be restored for about $2 million. Ryan said that Bureau of Parks & Recreation planners believe a restoration would cost between $10 million to $15 million.
Susan Bladholm, founder of the Frog Ferry project, pleaded with Ryan to aggressively support a proposed $9-million feasibility study for using diesel boats and eventually electric craft to ferry people from North Portland to downtown and beyond. Bladholm began sobbing as she spoke of frustration that the project has not gained more traction over the last six years. Ryan appeared sympathetic, but cited the fact that TriMet and the Portland Bureau of Transportation are at impasse on the issue
The town hall revealed progress—and simmering tensions—on the city’s Peninsula Safe Rest Village just east of the railroad cut, that provides 60 housing units for formerly homeless people. Ryan shared the good news of the successful reopening of the Peninsula Crossing Trail near the village and progress relieving some neighbors’ concerns about village operations. He cited more patrols to enforce non-authorized camping within 250 feet of the village.
Neighbor George Siebert, whose home is 14 feet away from the village restrooms, brought up new issues involving lack of trash pick up that may be attracting rodents. Fellow neighbor Ashley Wager was more vociferous, verbally eviscerating the city’s SRV management as “atrocious.”
Some in the audience began to heckle Ryan, who responded with passion of his own. “We can’t have people living on the streets…my own brother died homeless. I’m proud the seven Safe Rest Villages in the city are starting to get results and some people are turning their lives around. We have to stop just whining about this problem—we need to have some grace with each other—and get things done for our city.”