Mayor Wheeler proposes ‘90-day reset’ in Central Eastside Industrial District

Published: Nov. 29, 2022 at 10:51 PM PST
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Business owners on the Central Eastside are feeling frustrated because they said they’ve been dealing with rampant crime with little to no help from city, county and state leaders.

“We’re in this to win it, we believe in this town,” one man said, before asking whether it was possible to set up a neighborhood watch.

Tuesday night, dozens of local business owners had the chance to share their experiences with Mayor Ted Wheeler, police and county representatives and ask about possible solutions to their concerns.

One woman, who’s been working at a preschool in the area for 10 years, said these experiences aren’t new for her, and asked Wheeler whether he’d consider following in another state’s footsteps.

“It is a difficult question to ask, because I am a social worker at heart. It’s what I’ve been trained to do so I have compassion in my heart. I also understand as a social worker that the things we do are band-aids,” she said. “We cannot allow folks to live on the streets and think that’s compassion. The mayor of New York City just announced that they are going to be hospitalizing people involuntarily who are mentally ill and I’m wondering at what point do we decide that something similar like that needs to be done?”

Wheeler agreed it’s not compassionate to let people live in squalor conditions on the street and said he’d support looking into this question further.

“I’m told by those in the legal system who are engaged with this question of getting people into help, whether it’s voluntary or involuntary, the threshold is too high,” Wheeler said. “So, I would support a hard look at the legislative level of our involuntary commitment laws. I understand why they got to where they are today because there is abuse in the involuntary commitment system, but I believe we over-corrected.”

Marcy Landolfo shared that she closed up her shop, Rains, last week.

“I just recently made the decision to close my Central Eastside business the Tuesday before thanksgiving after my 15th break-in,” Ladolfo said. But she attended the listening session in Southeast Portland anyway because she said she has another business in the city she wants to protect.

While Darren Marshall, CEO of Steven Smith Teamaker, asked why they should stay in the area at all.

“Like everyone in this room, we deal daily with feces, human, on our shoes. We deal with break-ins, we deal with assaults, we deal with cars that get broken into. This afternoon we had an explosion around the corner from us. That’s the world that we live in every day” Marshall said.

Last week, Salt and Straw CEO Kim Malek also said she’d consider moving their headquarters out of the area if city and county leaders didn’t act fast to help get drugs off the street and deter crime, after one of her employees was held at gunpoint. She said leaving would be a last-ditch effort.

So, Tuesday night, Mayor Wheeler announced a proposal. He hopes to do a 90-day reset in the Central Eastside Industrial District, similarly to what they did in Old Town earlier this year - by increasing police patrols and improving lighting, for example. He said he believes his city-wide camping ban, passed by city council this month, will also help by connecting people with services and decrease crime.

“In May, problematic camp removals increased by 450% over a year prior. During that time, in case you’re wondering, did it lead to positive outcomes? I believe it led to very strong outcomes. Just from March to May of 2022 drug offenses in Old Town were down 51%, trespassing was down 93% -- vandalism also went down significantly,” Wheeler said.

Jessie Burke owns The Society Hotel in Old Town and said she’s seen some improvements from this plan firsthand.

“The entertainment district detail coming back to Old Town, it’s brought our weekend homicide rate to 0 because we had a lot of homicides every weekend,” Burke said. She said there’s more work to do and that business owners need to continue holding their elected officials accountable. “It’s not humane or safe for anyone to be outside. In Old Town, they’re now being eaten by rats, the people living in tents.”

“It’s a team sport to save a city,” Burke said.

Malek said she’s had several conversations in the last few weeks with city, county and state leaders and feels optimistic this plan can help the Central Eastside.

“I feel more hopeful than I have in years. I think we have a path forward here and now it’s all about defining that really clearly, holding people accountable, and moving quickly,” Malek said. “We’ve got to move with some level of intention here so we can show some progress and just make sure my team members are safe.”