planpdx.org: Interview with Betty Merten
Date of Interview: December 9, 2001
Interview By: Ernie Bonner
Location: Ernie Bonner residence
BM = Betty Merten
EB = Ernie Bonner
EB: So this is December 9th, 2001. This is an interview with Dr. Betty Merten, psychologist, and this is at Ernie Bonner's house in the Irvington/Alameda neighborhood of Portland.
So why don't we just start off, Betty, by you telling us a little bit about how you actually got to Portland. How did you get to Eastmoreland?
BM: I came west in the fall of 1960 with two architecture students in a 1954 Ford from Austin, where I had just graduated from the University of Texas. Ironically, I had accepted a graduate teaching fellowship in English at the UO because my then-fiance wanted to study with a famous architect who was at Oregon at the time. But that summer I realized I wasn't ready for marriage, at least not to him, broke off the engagement, and headed west anyway. It was a good way to see the Northwest and get a Master's degree, I reasoned, and it was only for one year. But in Eugene I met my husband-to-be, who was in law school, and that one year has now become 41.
From Eugene, Charley and I moved to Portland because he had been hired after he graduated from law school by George van Hoomissen of the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office to be a Deputy D.A., and I was already teaching seniors at Milwaukie High School just south of Portland. Subsequently, I taught at Portland State for a couple of years--until the birth of our second child.
EB: And what were you teaching at Portland State?
BM: Basic literature appreciation courses, like the American novel or contemporary fiction, and writing courses.
EB: And you lived where?
BM: First we rented the second floor of a duplex on Southeast Ash, in inner Southeast Portland. I liked the high ceilings, and it was cheap. It was close to Burnside, about two or three blocks south of East Burnside. After almost a year there we moved across the river to a wonderful little house on Southwest Hall, you know, where it begins to snake up from the freeway to Portland Heights--except the freeway wasn't there yet. It was a tall, narrow 3-story house. So from most of the rooms we could see the city, the river, and the mountains on good days. It was lovely. We paid $90 a month rent and wondered if we could afford it!
EB: That's in the homestead neighborhood now, what we call the homestead neighborhood, just below the Oregon Health Sciences University.
BM: Our house was actually closer to Portland State than to the Med. School--I used to walk to work when we lived there. I became a mother in that house, and I remember 6:00 a.m. feedings in the nursery that was on the northeast corner of the house overlooking the city. Those were blissful mornings of just sitting there nursing her--she was a February baby--and watching dawn come behind Mt. Hood and across the river and seeing the city wake up. Those are very fond memories.
EB: So how did you get involved in community things, or how did you get sort of involved in Portland from that point?
BM: A number of different threads led to my becoming an activist. One is probably growing up Methodist in Texas and believing that I should leave the world a better place. Methodism was pretty high on stewardship of the earth. That was simply a part of my upbringing, although my parents weren't political and certainly not activists--I just absorbed that somehow. Maybe because in Texas there's such a huge sky and so much space that a kid growing up there tends to believe that he or she can do anything. So I believed in possibility.
At the University of Texas I discovered existentialism, so it really became incumbent upon me to take responsibility for the world as I found it. If I didn't like something, then it was incumbent upon me ethically to change it. In Austin I had learned Gandhi-type strategies for social change--for example, I had participated in sit-ins and stand-ins at restaurants and movie theaters to get them to integrate, to serve blacks. It was also the times. There was in the early 1960s an awakening from the slumber of the 50s, an energy, a foment for change--at Berkeley, in Austin, in Madison, in Selma, in Jackson. (It wasn't happening in Oregon yet.) When JFK said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country," a whole generation took that as a call to action. And for me, personally, another very important thread leading to my activism in Portland on behalf of the environment was that I was a mother, and that makes you care very, very much about the world.
EB: What's the first thing you actually did? Do you remember?
BM: Oh, I remember. It was the fall of 1969, in October. An environmental awareness was happening at the national level. In 1969 the National Environmental Protection Act was passed. In 1970 the Clean Air Act was passed. A national consciousness was developing. I remember Walter Cronkite did a CBS special on the environment in 1969, and he used an image of the planet earth and the air around the earth that sustains all of life on the planet as being like the skin is to the apple. That was so effective in terms of helping me see the finite nature of the life-sustaining air because until he had used that image, I had just assumed that air was endless. But it suddenly became very precious, and here I had brought two children into the world, and their air was polluted.
I became riveted to the local problem in October of 1969. It was one of those gorgeous sunny Indian summer days that we sometimes get here, except a thick brownish-yellow smog hung in the air. We couldn't see the west hills from the east side, and nobody could see Mt. Hood.
We were still renting the Hall Street house when Catherine was born and we had those lovely mornings, but when I got pregnant with Tess we realized that we really needed to buy a house. And because we were interested in gardening, we were looking on the east side to have full sun in the back yard and good river-bottom soil.
So back to that October when Mt. Hood had become a memory, I was visiting a neighbor, Elaine Drukman, and another woman, Deenie Rousch, both married at the time to Reed professors. Elaine's husband, Mason, later became the editor of the Oregon Times after Phil Stanford left. We were sitting in the kitchen having coffee, complaining about the air pollution. And this is where, I think, my Methodism and existentialism and JFK and Walter Cronkite's apple all come into play because I got up from the table and said, "Who's in charge of our air, anyway?" Nobody knew, so I got a phone book and started looking in the yellow pages. I looked all through that phone book and found an agency called Columbia Willamette Air Pollution Agency (CWAPA) and another, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). I wrote their numbers down, called and found out when and where their next public meetings were, and the three of us vowed to go. For me, that was the beginning of an intense, sustained effort on many fronts to clean up Portland's air.
Our purpose was to raise public consciousness about air pollution by expressing our concerns about air quality to everyone who had any legal or political authority to protect it. We were going to make them accountable. This included the staff of CWAPA and its board, which was comprised of city and county commissioners from the Portland metropolitan area, and the staff of DEQ and its board, the Environmental Quality Commission which had jurisdiction for setting and enforcing air quality standards for the state. We bird-dogged every meeting, gave formal testimony at every hearing, met individually with staff and board members. We lobbied the Oregon Legislature in 1971 and 1973 on behalf of pro-environmental legislation and, in particular, in support of bills that would raise the carbon monoxide and other ambient air standards in the state.
The original three women in the kitchen soon expanded to include several other women from the neighborhood baby-sitting group: Beth Wieting, Aliki Anderson, Elsa Coleman. I talked to everybody about the critical need to clean up Portland's air, even my pediatrician who said, "You should talk to my wife," and gave me her number. Thus it was that Nell Rand joined us from the Mt. Tabor neighborhood. We were almost a dozen strong when we showed up at the first CWAPA meeting. Richard Hatchard, CWAPA's director, was blown away. Nobody had gone to those meetings before, except perhaps industry representatives requesting an extension or waiver. He asked, "Who are you ladies? Are you the Sierra Club?" We said "No, we're just housewives concerned for the health of our children." "Are you from the Oregon Environmental Council?" he continued. "No," we answered. "We're not any group; we're just housewives who care about the quality of the air." Unable to pigeon-hole us, he soon started referring to us, fondly I believe, as "Merten's marauders." He seemed grateful to have support to do his job.
From Dick Hatchard I learned that the auto was the main source of pollution in the Portland airshed. Obviously, that soon took me into land use and planning issues. A few months later, in January 1970, I was actively opposing the proposed 13-story parking structure Meier & Frank wanted to build in the heart of downtown. Our women's group did some street theater at SW5th and Morrison with great media coverage. We wore surgical masks that Nell had gotten from her husband's office and carried placards that said "Smog Kills." I made an impassioned plea before the Planning Commission, speaking simply as an Eastmoreland housewife concerned for the health of my children and the vitality of the city. I predicted economic doom to downtown if the parking structure was built and told them that we would return to downtown to walk and shop if it were pleasant to do so. I suggested, instead of more cars and pollution, that that block be transformed into a piazza--a central open space at the city's heart for people to enjoy--flanked by non-polluting transit. It was a nice vision. Now, as you know, it's Pioneer Square. We also helped to organize the first Earth Day. I believe that was on April 22 of 1970 or '71. There's a photo in our family album showing Nell Rand, me, and our pre-school children at the celebration downtown. The kids have long strands of licorice and balloons in their hands. We got some streets downtown closed to auto traffic and had food booths, information booths, music. It was really fun.
EB: So when did you start organizing under the banner of STOP - Sensible Transportation Options for People?
BM: Isn't that a great acronym? I wish I had thought it up. It came from one of STOP's founding members, Jim Howell. I believe that it may have been as early as 1971 or 72.
STOP was formed by several of us--Ron Buel, who had written a book, Dead End, about the impact of cars and freeways on American cities; Steve Schell; Jim Howell; and others who were concerned about the maze of freeways that were in the works for Portland, which, if built, would slice up the city, destroy neighborhoods, reduce livability, create more air pollution, the most notable of which was the Mt. Hood freeway that seemed destined to go through southeast Portland. We knew that to be effective on the local level we had to organize, and we had to be visible and focused. STOP was a perfect name for a group committed to stopping the Mt. Hood freeway, but the words themselves--sensible transportation options for people--pointed to solutions beyond cars and freeways. We also lobbied the city to adopt disincentives to the auto, like parking lids on new downtown development, and employee incentives to take the bus to work.
EB: Elsa Coleman mentioned that in a talk she gave at a gathering in the Clinton St. Theatre. Margie Gustafson talked about that, as well.
BM: Yes, I believe Elsa was involved in STOP. Marjie wasn't, as I recall, but she probably was a part of the earlier neighborhood women for clean air; I know she was definitely in the baby-sitting group. I'm fairly sure Elsa was at that first organizing meeting for STOP in my living room.
I served as STOP's first chairperson. Steve Schell, I believe, served the next year. We had a steering committee, letterhead, held workshops, and gave press conferences. It was a grass roots group in the best sense. We were focused and informed. Like the earlier group of housewives, there were never very many of us but we created a perception of many. We were educated, articulate professionals--young Turks who believed we could overturn a "done deal." The Mt. Hood freeway had already been approved by the city, county, state, and the federal governments, and the money was already allocated. We worked closely with the ODOT consultants at Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) and got terrific data from them showing that after 5000 homes, several local businesses, churches, and schools were wiped out, air pollution levels would be higher and the transportation problem would still not be solved.
EB: Did your women's group have any role in dealing with the Mt. Hood Freeway? Were there any kind of public demonstrations about that?
BM: No, I don't think so. We were very active from 1969 through 1971, and our only demonstration was in January 1970 against the Meier & Frank parking lot unless the April 22 celebration in the streets downtown could be construed as a kind of demonstration, not against anything but in favor of protecting the planet. Fighting the Mt. Hood freeway really required its own organization.
Actually there were two different groups formed in opposition to the freeway. The first was STOP, which was the grass roots, political effort. The second was the Southeast Legal Defense Fund, which was essentially comprised of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the freeway brought in federal court.
Now, for the Mt. Hood Freeway, that was very different. That was what STOP was created specifically for, was to create a sense of great grassroots opposition to the freeway. Again, there were never many people there, but we could pack a punch. We supported the lawsuit I would say tangentially. The lawsuit was actually brought in federal court against the freeway by some...
EB: Some specific individual, right.
BM: Yes, who lived in the corridor. Exactly. But STOP was organized mainly to fight it on a political level, which we did. Then my husband killed it in federal court with a lawsuit.
EB: I remember you speaking about the tactics that a group like that could engage in that upset everybody so, like Margie Gustafson talking about the time there was a great little park over there in Sellwood, but when mothers would take their children over there to play in a wading pool, the people playing softball would loft these fly balls over the screen and endanger the kids, and so the mothers got together and went down and gave Frank Ivancie a lot of trouble.
BM: That's right.
EB: Was it something like a Diaper-in or a...
BM: I only vaguely remember. I was so incredibly busy trying to save the environment--writing testimony, going to hearings in Salem and Portland, organizing various groups, studying the issues, planning strategy, talking to media and lobbying policy-makers, writing my column in the Oregon Times, etc.--that I didn't have time for any other "causes," like the Diaper-in or the pub protest against a males-only bar. In fact, Frank Ivancie, before he knew my name referred to me as "the woman in the hat," because I didn't have time to do my hair before rushing off to a meeting. As my mother would say, that gold velour cloche was hiding "a multitude of sins."
EB: So okay, so now we're in 1971 or 1972, somewhere in there?
BM: Yes, when I chaired STOP.
EB: George Joseph, was he involved at that time?
BM: I don't recall that George or Elizabeth were ever involved. They lived in the neighborhood, but I don't believe that they were involved.
EB: Steve Schell talks about being involved very early in STOP.
BM: Yes, Steve was on the steering committee from the beginning.
EB: I didn't know Ron was. That's interesting.
BM: Ron, I think - you know, memory is not perfect, but I think Ron and I started it.
EB: I can easily imagine Ron, and you, too, being on the phone and getting people to come to this meeting.
EB: Oh, it was easy. There really was a widespread discontent with the way the city had been going, and Ron's attachment to Neil, who had just been elected to the Council, gave him incredible political charisma. That big living room was full of interested people. But again, it wasn't hundreds, but we created the perception of a huge groundswell.
And, clearly, an energy was sweeping through Portland during the early and mid-70s that fostered a sea-change in how business got done at the city, how we wanted to grow and develop. Although we had to be against a lot of things--e.g., a parking structure in the heart of downtown, a freeway eviscerating southeast Portland, a regional transportation plan that included only cars, busses, and more freeways--it was really an energy for positive change, for livable neighborhoods, a vital downtown, and a cleaner environment.
EB: And '71 really was Neil's first year as a Commissioner.
BM: That's right. He was a part of this energy. He rode it like a skillful surfer on a wave. It was time for the old guys with cigars in back rooms making deals--Fred Meyer, Glenn Jackson, Terry Schrunk--to go. And Neil - this young 26- or 27- year old legal aid lawyer with untamed hair getting on the Council--was amazing. Invigorating. A real sign of the times.
EB: Right. And Tom Walsh had almost beaten Ivancie.
BM: That's right. The tide was turning. It was the new generation taking some power and moving and shaking things, and I think we cannot also underestimate the legacies of John and Robert Kennedy. I think possibly Neil, and particularly Vera and others, became engaged politically who otherwise might not.
EB: Right. I remember Sally Landauer talking about she and Vera Katz on their hands and knees waxing Vera's kitchen floor, and it dawning on the two of them sort of almost together, "Why are we doing this?" This was in 1967 or 1968, you know, with all the McCarthy- Kennedy stuff going on.
BM: Yes. It was a time of beginning to think globally and act locally. A lot was cooking in those kitchens. What's interesting to me sociologically now is that we were probably the last generation of married women who had the luxury of being supported by our husbands, and we were all educated, so here was this incredible resource that the country doesn't have any longer. Families need two incomes, and so we don't have this incredible reservoir of volunteer energy and intelligence today.
I do wonder who's going to do the good works, who's going to have the visions, who's going to have the manpower, the womanpower, to do the work, who's going to have the time.
EB: Very good question.
BM: It took an inordinate amount of time for me to carry this passion, and it never entered my mind that I should be paid for it.
EB: That really is a good question about who's going to do this work now, and I think the answer is pretty easy: nobody.
BM: Unless it's the right-wing Christian wives. That scares me.
EB: Could be. Who probably offer some of the same experiences as you do, coming from Texas, you know, a Methodist, and having this sort of ethic built into you somehow.
BM: Possibly. But most of the Christian fundamentalists don't seem to go for social justice. Aren't they more interested in personal salvation?
It's the more liberal churches, I think, that advocate for stewardship of the earth and social justice.
EB: I'm sure it wouldn't be the same ethic. It would be a different ethic, but it could be just as strong.
BM: Yeah. The social justice that they might go for would be blowing up abortion clinics or something.
EB: So now let's continue through here. What kind of a role did you have beyond that, like in the middle '70s, for instance?
BM: I was doing some establishment-type things in the early and mid-70s--it wasn't all grass roots stuff. In the early 1970s I was appointed to the Citizens Advisory Committee to the DeLeuw-Cather 1990 Regional Transportation Plan, probably because of my visibility at public hearings and my role in STOP.
They called it a transportation plan. That was the regional plan which had the Mt. Hood Freeway, among others, on it. It was presented as a given. I remember getting so frustrated at those meetings where the consultant from Deleuw-Cather talked about nothing but auto/freeway/bus solutions; only gas-propelled or diesel-propelled wheel transport was possible. They had appointed a citizen committee to "input" the plan, but they fully expected us simply to rubber stamp it. Fortunately, I wasn't the only one on the committee that wanted to think outside their tight little box. George Sheldon and, I believe, Elsa Coleman were cohorts with me, and we pushed through a recommendation for rail as an option.
EB: That was a regional transportation plan?
BM: Yes, it was regional.
EB: There was a big traffic plan, freeways going everywhere?
BM: That's right. Freeways going everywhere, through the northwest neighborhood, dumping traffic into Northeast, cutting through southeast...
EB: Came out of the '60s.
BM: So that was how I began to then work inside the system for the kinds of changes that were needed.
EB: Any other appointments of that nature?
BM: Governor McCall appointed me to the Boundary Commission.
EB: For the region?
BM: Yes, for the Portland metropolitan area.
EB: Don Carlson was the Director?
BM: Yeah, I think so. But those establishment-type things didn't take much of my time and they certainly weren't where my heart was, but it was important to be there. By being there, we got "out of the box" solutions, like light rail, recommended as a viable option, even if it was only advisory.
Where else? Let me see. There were downtown meetings that met in Pete Mark's office, and I was a part of that. We met at noon and had boxed lunches. It was the Advisory Committee for Implementation of the Clean Air Act amendments of 1971. We were charged with figuring how Portland could comply with the federal standards. It was a venue in which I advocated for parking lids downtown and I believe by then I may have been promoting light rail as a non-polluting transit alternative to buses and cars.
I forgot to mention earlier another organization that I co-founded, the NEDC. In the early 1970s my husband Charley and I, our pediatrician Joe Rand, and Billy Williamson, law professor, started the Northwest Environmental Defense Center at Lewis & Clark Law School. There was a need for scientists and attorneys to sit down with their respective expertise to solve some of the problems in the environment. We had good laws on the books by then. What was needed was more aggressive enforcement.
And Charley, student of the law that he was, found the old 1899 Rivers and Harbors Act and started trying to enforce it here in Portland. Charley was very creative with the law.
My main involvement in NEDC really was to get it started. Well, come to think of it, I also wrote the monthly publication that went out, NEDC News, and served on the board as Vice-President. But the important thing I felt I did there was to get these two different groups of professional people talking together and using their expertise on behalf of the environment.
And they have come, I think, to have a lot of influence on things, partly because of that, the scientists and the lawyers together. Pretty powerful.
I'm trying to think of what else there was happening then. It was a rich time. Oh, yes! Bill Failing, Larry Griffith, and I started a pseudo corporation called Willamette Traction, Ltd. We created a glossy black-and-white brochure that read, Let's get Portland back on track. On the cover was a picture of a streetcar. We talked it up around town. Our purpose was to market the idea of light rail transit, specifically the old streetcars. We met several times for lunch in Old Town with Bill Naito, and he was interested. He became so enthusiastic that he bought some fine old antique cars from Portugal and brought them over. We tried to get interest among the business people in developing a Neighborhood Improvement District that could fund a streetcar line through Northwest, Old Town, and downtown. Naito was really on board for this, but the time wasn't ripe yet for that seed. But at least we got it planted. You can imagine my delight with the streetcar line that recently opened linking PSU, the library, Powell's and The Pearl District, with Good Sam at NW 22nd and Lovejoy.
EB: Do you have any pictures of those days?
BM: In the family photo album there are only a few, like the Earth Day celebration. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of the hearings or the street theater or the meetings with Naito. It's funny, when you're doing that stuff you don't know you're making history. You're just doing something because you care about it.
I do have a picture of me in a miniskirt at a CH2M Hill party. A picture of you, too, I think. Bill Failing might have some of Naito's streetcars.
EB: Fine. There were a lot of important people in that group. Maybe Dick Ivy, actually.
BM: Sadly, I don't have pictures of him. I wish I did.
Ivy hired me in 1973 to work for CH2M, and that's how I met you, I believe. He enjoyed telling people that he liked to take women off the streets and make them honorable, and that's why he said he hired me.
In a slightly more serious moment he said that CH2M Hill, which was primarily an engineering firm, needed an environmental white knight, so he brought me on. He also liked the way I wrote. He wanted me to write environmental assessments for the firm.
EB: He was a stickler about writing.
BM: Yes, I felt honored that he liked my writing. He had been following my columns in the Oregon Times. I really enjoyed working with him. But, of course, when I was working full time I didn't have time to do the activist stuff.
EB: That's right. You were co-opted then.
BM: Right. Except I did write what was called back then a white paper, a position paper. I don't know why we called them white papers.
In my spare time, in the evenings at home, I wrote LRT: The Logical Alternative, and I circulated it among planners and policy-makers in the area. I gave it to the media. It was well received. It was an outgrowth of my work with STOP. By 1973-74 I was doing everything in my power to get light rail seen as a viable alternative to the freeway. I remember having you to dinner during this time, probably a bit later in 1975. Elizabeth Roccia and I invited you to dinner at my house to turn you on to light rail. She made a cake and put a little trolley on top of it, and I showed slides of the streetcars in Bern, Switzerland, that I had brought back.
I don't know if you remember any of this...
EB: I don't remember that exact event, but I do recall it being hard to get light rail officially considered seriously.
BM: That's right. I remember that very same frustration because there had been a lot of talk about it, and it was sort of in the consciousness, but how do you get it as one of the establishment options? And that was what Elizabeth and I were trying to do by having you to dinner. We were hoping that you, as the head of the Bureau of Planning, could figure out how to get it under official consideration.
The other person that I personally lobbied was Neil. This was fairly early.
EB: What year are we talking about? Like '73, '74, something like that?
BM: It would have been about then.
EB: What was his response to the light rail?
BM: Well, it was interesting. He was Mayor by then, and we met in his office. I had heard about light rail from a dentist, Dr. Larry Griffith, at one of the Planning Commission hearings. Everybody just kind of dismissed him as a kook, and I thought that was unfortunate because Larry really knew what he was talking about. But he didn't know how to talk about it. I doubt that we would have MAX today if it hadn't been for Larry Griffith. Light rail was really his baby, and I was the mid-wife. Nobody, including myself, knew much about it before he started talking about it.
After I first heard him talk about it, I went up to him and said, "This sounds wonderful. I want to learn more about it. Tell me what you know." He and I met for coffee several times after that, and he educated me. I was sold on it."
So to try to legitimize it, I wrote the position paper sort of under the auspices of STOP, but I wouldn't have had the expertise to write about it if it hadn't been for Larry Griffith. Since nobody took Larry Griffith seriously, I was trying to figure out how to get the knowledge that this man had into a place where it could be utilized, be effective, and so I set up a meeting between him and Neil and just made Neil sit down and listen.
I don't know why Neil agreed to the meeting, but he agreed. It was in his office, and I remember Neil pacing back and forth while Larry was talking. I remember that he looked a little agitated, and I remember hearing him say to me, "Well, what do you expect me to do about it?" Because Larry was talking all this technical stuff about the train and the rails and continuous welding this-and-that and the overhead wire, and I was saying to Neil, "This can be a non-polluting, environmentally-friendly mode of transit that brings people into the central core to support the kind of downtown development that you want."
So he was asking what I expected him to do to do about it. And I said, "Neil, you appoint the Tri-Met board members, you have a relationship with Bill Roberts, and you have also some relationship to the Department of Transportation, and you can bring people to the Bureau of Planning that could know how to do this." I suggested that he might have some influence in getting the federal funds that had been allotted to the Mt. Hood corridor transferred to the development of light rail. And that's the only time I ever talked to him about it.
EB: That was pretty much his attitude about it, I think, at the very beginning. You have to remember that politically he was really under a tremendous amount of heat--particularly from people out in Gresham.
BM: I know. The myopia of the Mayor of Gresham. I mean, how little he could see that light rail in that corridor would make Gresham boom town.
EB: Exactly. So he had a lot of difficulty with that, and I don't think he really decided it could be done until people like Ernie Munch and Doug Wright finally convinced him that it could be done. But he had a lot of political problems, as did others on the City Council. He just couldn't yet see how he could possibly solve those.
BM: Right. But he did. He brought you on, and you brought Ernie Munch and Doug Wright, and they...
EB: And actually before that. Bill Dirker from Lloyd's office was talking about the transfer possibilities before I even got here. And people like Lon Topaz, remember, who used to work at the Public Utility Commissioner's Office?
EB: He developed this whole network of light rail corridors that were available to be used...
BM: That's right.
EB: So that kind of thing was around a lot.
BM: Yeah. A lot of people were excited about it.
EB: But the first official list of transportation investments to be made with the Mt. Hood Freeway money when it was turned in did not include a light rail. It included a transit project in the Banfield, which everybody expected to be a bus corridor, and so I don't recall myself, and I haven't yet found out how that changed from that list of projects which basically had the Banfield bus line in there, to one where the Banfield corridor had the light rail in it. I don't know.
BM: I don't know either. I just know that it made such sense to have it be the electric rail. I had been to Europe in...let's see, my first trip to Europe was when Catherine was nine, so that must've been in '75. I flew to Switzerland to see an old friend, but I also went so that I could ride light rail and see for myself what Griffith was talking about. I had thought beforehand that I was going to make a film about light rail in European cities to show how neat it was. But then I realized how much money it took to make a film, I didn't have the expertise to do it or the money to hire anybody else to do it or the time to write a grant, so I just went over and rode it and took pictures and came back and showed you my slides.
I knew people would love it. I thought it would be an easy sell once people saw it.
EB: Certainly people are passionate about trains. Maybe it helped to have a lot of trains taken away for the last 30 or 40 years.
BM: Perhaps, because then there was the nostalgia, yes. But there is something that draws us to trains, and nothing really draws us to buses. Buses are utilitarian. They can move more people at less environmental cost than cars, but nobody falls in love with a bus.
EB: Right. Plus a light rail is quieter and cleaner.
BM: Oh, sure. That's what first attracted me to it. That's why I called it "the logical alternative" because when you look at it, it's a very environmentally clean, user-friendly thing to go through your neighborhood or to go through your city.
EB: Right. Well, if you ever find out how that happened ...
BM: How it got changed? I was hoping you would know.
EB: Well, I will know someday, but I don't know today.
BM: When you know, I hope that you will let me know. Charley was involved in some of that stuff because he was the plaintiff's attorney who got the decision in the 9th Circuit Court that killed the freeway, from Judge Burns, and I believe that afterwards he might have also been involved in efforts to get the funds transferred to development of LRT. Al and Kayda Clark were the primary plaintiffs. They lived in southeast Portland in the corridor.
It's funny how life is. I was at CH2M only a short time, probably no more than a year, because a job came open at CRAG that seemed to be designed for me. It was to be in charge of public information for the region's land use and transportation planning, sort of the public information director for CRAG.
After you write a few environmental impact statements, they get a little bit boring, and then in the down periods at CH2M Hill, there wasn't that much to do. Sometimes Dick and I would fly off in a little airplane to some town in central Washington and make a pitch for a job or something, but basically when this CRAG opportunity came up, he said, "I think your name is written all over that job. Go for it, if you want to. I'll miss you, but go for it if you want it." Well, I went for it, I believe it was in the Spring of '74, and it was quite an extensive interview process.
I remember the interview. I was seated at the head of a long table surrounded by staff from various city and county jurisdictions and, of course, from ODOT. I had never interviewed before like that. To get hired at Portland State I simply talked to the chair of the English department, and then Dick just wanted me at CH2M so I went there, but here was this rather daunting process. It could have been intimidating. But, you know, I knew everybody at that table, and I knew the regional transportation planning issues like the back of my hand. So it was my job. Out of over a hundred applicants. I was hired in May, and the position was abolished in June! That is the shortest tenure ever, I think.
This was interesting politically. It's sort of like karma was catching up with me. I had made some enemies over the five years or so of my citizen activism. Frank Ivancie, in particular, was pretty bitter about the Mt. Hood Freeway defeat.
He first saw me in January of 1970 when I was opposing the Meier & Frank parking lot, so he's had a bad feeling for me ever since, and the Mt. Hood Freeway opposition made that worse. Portland was a big power in CRAG, being the big city, and Mildred Schwab was the city's representative to the CRAG General Assembly held in June. CRAG had recently hired a new executive director, who barely had his feet on the ground, Larry Rice. When he went to the general assembly with his new budget, he was confronted with a very clever strategy instigated by Mildred and, I suspect, Frank. She had lobbied to eliminate my position, because they had no way in the world to fire me. They were saying that someone with such a clear bias in favor of transit shouldn't be in that position. They got the smaller places like King City to vote with them because the small municipalities were anti-regional government anyway and didn't want any dollars going for PR that might make CRAG look favorable to their constituents. So, the city of Portland, along with a majority of the smaller jurisdictions, effectively held the whole budget of CRAG hostage for that one line item. What's a new director to do?
EB: Right. Particularly a new one.
BM: Yes, he caved.
BM: So that was the end of that. I never got to - never got to be a real planner. And after that I went up to our mountain cabin and spent the summer; the kids and I lived up there. A major chapter of my life had ended. I wrote my last article for the Oregon Times, and I started really thinking about growing up, getting a professional identity, getting paid for what I do.
By then my parents were dying. My father was already dead, and my mother was dying. My marriage was dying. By the end of the decade I had become interested in becoming a clinical psychologist. I wanted to know how people become the way they are, and how they cope. So you know, it's interesting how life goes.
If they hadn't gotten rid of that position, I might have just continued working in transportation and land use planning.
EB: Well, you're on my list of Portland planners.
BM: Thank you. There has to be somebody to think outside the box, to BE outside the box, and then other people think outside the box, and then there's a transformation of what's possible. How do you get light rail officially considered.
EB: It has to be on the list.
BM: Exactly--on the list. And that's where all of our efforts, all of my personal efforts and everybody else's, could only go so far, and then it had to be done by the real planners. So I think, you know, it was a nice synergy. It was very complementary. We couldn't have done it without each other.
EB: I agree.
BM: You know, of everything I've been involved with I'm probably most proud of Pioneer Square and MAX. I was involved in their beginnings and feel personally connected to Portland through them.
EB: Well, that must make you feel good.
BM: You bet it does. It's very gratifying.
EB: Good. Why don't we close now, and I'll get this transcribed, and then you can look it over.
BM: This must be a wonderful process for you because when history's written, it's usually just from one person's perspective from research, looking at papers and stuff, but here you get everybody's story. You get the benefit of everybody's story.
EB: And that to me is what is becoming clearer and clearer, that that's what history is, it's the stories of those who lived through time. And the stories of those who participated in Portland in the Seventies is getting more and more interesting.
[End of Interview]