planpdx.org: Interview with Ranjana Blackett
Mary Catherine Pedersen (now Ranjana Blackett) was an early worker in Portland neighborhoods' efforts to win some influence in planning decisions which would affect their community. She was the City's first coordinator of the Office of Neighborhood Associations and a consistent supporter of a voice for neighborhoods in the planning process. Mary now lives in Sedona, Arizona. She teaches part time at the University of Northern Arizona at Flagstaff and works for the Osho Academy in Sedona.
Date of Interview: December 15, 1999
Interview By: Ernie Bonner
Location: Sedona, Arizona
RB = Ranjana Blackett
EB = Ernie Bonner
EB: This is an interview with Mary Pedersen. We're in Sedona, Arizona, and it must be like the 15th of December in 1999. Tell me, Ranjana, how did you get to Portland?
RB: I had been in Mexico doing research for my dissertation. So I came back to the university, Yale University, after the hiring season had already basically peaked. Yet I wanted to work the next year somewhere, and there were a few smaller places that I visited, Vermont and St. Louis. Then, at the last minute somebody at Reed College decided to go off to Africa, and they were suddenly looking for somebody to take the position. I talked to the people, I flew out there, I really liked it and accepted a contract and taught there three years. Very turbulent years. These were the late '60s.
EB: How did you get to Yale?
RB: I got to Yale on a Woodrow Wilson fellowship. My home town is about 25 miles from Philadelphia in New Jersey. Small town. I went to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, loved it, great campus for me. Got a Woodrow Wilson and went to Yale to study political science, and then got a Woodrow Wilson, what they called a fellowship, to go and do my research. I chose to go to Mexico and work on centralization and decentralization in a northern state of Mexico. I looked at four issue areas, including water, of course, education, urban development and political party nominations in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.
It was clear in the political area, the party was holding on, but there were some areas where decentralization was actually happening, and it was interesting how it was happening: very technical areas were more successful than others. So that made a pretty good dissertation. It wasn't finished when I came out to Reed, but I finished writing it the third year I was there.
And my contract was not renewed. There were a number of reasons for that. Basically I chose not to stay in teaching. I didn't feel it really was active enough for me. I enjoyed it, but I think I would have enjoyed it more on a big college campus, and later I did teach some night classes at Portland State, and I enjoyed that very much. A different mix of students, felt more university-like.
Anyway, it wasn't really active enough for me. They were very controversial years. My first year at Reed, 1968-1969, was the year the black students took the administration building and held it until they got a new program that reflected their interests. So it was very controversial, and mirrored big splits between the junior faculty and the senior faculty. Not comfortable years... going on all across the United States. Everywhere. Even a little place like Reed College, which had always been so cohesive and so interested in the humanities and the arts. Some great students there, very talented.
I lived first right in Southeast Portland, not far from Powell. Then I moved to Milwaukie, and I lived in a guest house on an estate out there, which was really pretty. Then I moved to Northeast Portland and lived in Irvington. And when I left Reed, I decided I was not going to seek another teaching contract. In fact, I thought I was going to go to South America because that was my main interest, South American politics.
Part I: The Northwest District Association
RB: I got as far as Northwest Portland, was offered a job over there, which I was willing to take part-time, working with Good Samaritan Hospital, looking into the difficult situation they had with the neighborhood around them. I accepted that because I was interested in communities, and I was interested - I think I really kind of fell for Northwest Portland as a place. I liked its urbane style. In those days it wasn't developed. It had no trees along the streets. It was just a little funky old neighborhood. But people were friendly, and it was much more tolerant and much more diverse than some of Portland's other neighborhoods.
So I took this position, and I was there a year. I didn't have any authority from the hospital, that was for sure. I billed myself as an independent consultant, and I took this contract, as I said, half time. And I lived in Northwest Portland in an apartment, and went to the neighborhood meetings.
That was the summer of 1971, and the neighborhood was in a number of battles there. The hospital was just one conflict that was happening. Another one was the battle about the freeway that had been announced in the newspaper to run down Thurman Street--I-505. But the neighborhoods didn't know it by that name. It was the Thurman Street freeway, and they didn't want it. That was the "industrial freeway". They did not want that going through the neighborhood, so that was another controversy.
The third controversy was the loss of housing and the loss of the living quality and the threat of urban renewal. Good Samaritan had cooperated with the Portland Development Commission to put in a proposal for redevelopment in Northwest. And there were people who were living in Northwest who had been forced out of the downtown riverfront area by the Southwest redevelopment project, and they knew what that meant. They knew from their experience that old houses which had charm were torn down, big office buildings went up, the streets were widened, fabulous trees and sculptures, and it looked wonderful, but it was like every other urban renewal area all across the country. You can go to almost any of them, and they look very similar. They did not want that to happen in Northwest Portland.
So I came to Portland for a teaching job. I stayed in Portland because I found an area of Portland where I liked living. I liked the people I was working with, I liked the people in the Northwest District Association, and it just felt like it was a time when planning hadn't really started in Portland. Yes, you had the urban renewal area downtown and some other projects going on, and Dick Ivey spoke about those, but very little planning in Northwest Portland other than that of the hospital. And what was done by the hospital was done with the hospital's interest in mind, and that, I think, was completely understandable on their part. I didn't make them a villain - and for that matter, most of the neighbors didn't make them a villain, either.
But the hospital had gotten a little worried because there had been some picketing; if you can believe it, some of the women who lived in Northwest Portland had come with these little signs about how the hospital was unfair to neighborhoods. That was a little scary to the board because, of course, they were a hospital, but they were also a business - their board was mainly Episcopalian - and they were good-hearted. They didn't want to have a fight with their neighborhood, but they didn't see any way out of the conflict at the time because the hospital needed to enlarge and upgrade their facilities to keep up.
Dr. Spence Meighan was in charge of medical education there. I met him through a friend who had studied at Reed. He was familiar with my education and my interests, and he thought that it might be good to have somebody come in as an independent consultant to advise the hospital on their communications with the neighborhood - we set the limit, it was going to be a $5,000 contract. That was not a lot of money for a year's work, and the hospital could afford that to see if somebody could look around and find a way to resolve this.
But as I said, I didn't have any authority because at the same time that I contracted with the hospital, they hired a man named Claire Siddall to be the vice president for development, so he was the hospital's representative when there were meetings with the neighborhood or with the City.
Chet Stocks was the administrator at the hospital, and that man, I have a lot of respect for him. Very intelligent. Slow to move, slow to talk, but he had the hospital's best interest at heart, and he was a good administrator but a non-talker type. I think the word is taciturn.
Spence Meighan was a different kind of a guy. He used to play rugby and referee rugby, and he had come from England - I think he was Scottish, actually - to Canada, and from Canada down to Portland. And as head of the medical education dept. he had the interns' and the residents' programs, and was involved in choosing the young doctors who would be residents at the hospital. He had a small staff working for him, and mainly doing research into the latest innovations in medical education. From that work he knew there had been controversies with other hospitals around the country and that some disputes had been resolved.
So it wasn't like I came to Portland because of its planning. I stayed in Portland, though, because of the opportunity to get involved with the community doing something beautiful in that area.
EB: Can you talk about the Northwest District Association and how it got started in the middle of all these events.
RB: Okay. There were some very key people who came together to form what became the Northwest District Association, and my understanding is that this happened in the spring of '71: Bing Sheldon is an architect, and he and his wife Carolyn had lived down in the Southwest near Portland State until the urban renewal, and then when they had gotten established, they had been able to buy a house up in Willamette Heights. He's a very talented architect and he and Carolyn knew the score. Ogden Beeman worked for the Port, and he and Charlotte also lived on the hill - Ogden is a very mild-spoken, intelligent, thoughtful, good leader, in a quiet way.
And Llano Thelin the pastor at Emanuel Lutheran Church. When the I-405 Highway was put in there, it went right down the middle of Llano's parish. So he knew what urban renewal could do to a neighborhood, and he knew that there had been a lot of low income housing, and those people were just "relocated", which meant with federal money. Since there was a diminishing supply of housing, most of them wound up in old hotels, which no longer had a viable population of travelers moving through there. So they definitely had a reduction in the quality of their housing, as a result, and it affected his parish.
Up along Thurman Street, there was a settlement house. From the settlement movement, there was a community center there called the Neighborhood House, and the director Ed Crawford could see that the same thing would happen over there in the Thurman Street area. He was instrumental at the beginning in lending the support of his board to the formation of the Association. He had a board, so that meant if he talked to his board, then there's eight or ten people already informed. And Edgar Waehrer and Howard and Jane Glazer also were involved.
These people had come together, and a number of things had happened. One, these activists filed a lawsuit against the freeway, and two, they picketed the hospital, and they - I don't know how they did this; they started to talk to each other about how they could go to the PDC and oppose that urban renewal proposal. I know the PDC staffers had been out in the neighborhood once or twice - but this was before Neil was elected mayor, so there wasn't much of an interest at that point in neighborhood planning. There was some interest from the neighborhood side, but the City was caught up with using federal money to do planning in downtown and Model Cities, not neighborhoods in general.
The downtown plan through Dick Ivey was getting started there, and the fact that that had started sort of - when planning spread to the neighborhoods it wasn't opposed by the downtown business people because I think they had seen that it had had some beneficial effects, and they didn't want to alienate the neighbors - anyway, that's their customers, close-in customers.
So a number of things happened just boom, boom, boom. I started at the hospital in September, 1971, and I think it was in October the people who had formed the first board of the Northwest District Association went out to a retreat house in Beaverton on a Saturday, spent Saturday night, and came back on Sunday afternoon - just getting to know each other, and talking about how they could organize this neighborhood, how they could defend it.
Now, mind you, I don't think any of them actually lived on what they called "the flats," except the Glazers. The others all lived up on the hill. But they looked on the flats, and they drove through the flats, and I think some of them had a genuine love for the neighborhood. You know, they all went down to the grocery that was right down there on Everett and the Chapman elementary school was two blocks from Thurman Street - you know.
So they decided to hold a series of neighborhood meetings and block meetings. Howard Glazer was instrumental in that, the architect. He had his office right in the Northwest, and he lived in this building. He bought a big, three-story, place with six-apartments, and one was his office downstairs, and one upstairs he lived in. I think he was starting his second family then. So he bought this building, and that was right on Flanders at 21st, if I'm not mistaken. Beautiful building.
So I went with him to a couple of neighborhood meetings in my area because I was living at 21st and Johnson. I went to the Everett Street meeting, and I think that drew from Everett and Flanders and Glisan. Then I went to a meeting over on Johnson Street, and I think that's where I met Vera Katz for the first time. She had been supporting the neighbors' intent to organize, but she had not been to the retreat out at the retreat house, as I remember. I don't think she went that weekend. I met her at a neighborhood meeting later. But I had heard about her; her reputation had preceded her.
EB: Was she a state rep. by then?
RB: No, no, no. She - I think it was the first time I met her, might have been the second time, she invited me back to her apartment, and she asked me if I'd ever been involved in politics, and I said, well, I had canvassed one day for Eugene McCarthy, but I couldn't really say I was involved in politics. I'd always been going to school.
And she said, well, would I support somebody from the neighborhood who would run for state rep., and I said, "Well, I would if it was a woman." [laughs] And she said, "Well, what would you think if I said I was sounding people out to run?" And I said, "I would be right there, I would support you completely." So that was how I met Vera.
But the thing I was impressed by in the little neighborhood meetings was that the concerns of the people were very local. Many of them were elderly. They wanted to be able to walk safely from their front door to their grocery store and get back safely, without being run over by a truck or a speeding driver on their way to the hospital, or getting mugged on the way home after they deposited a social security check or something. You know what I'm saying. And there was a subculture of drugs in those days, and it wasn't too dangerous in Northwest Portland, but the folks had read in the newspapers and seen on television what was happening to other people, and they were nervous.
The housing situation was not great for them, either. Rents were going up. There was one building already that had been built there for senior housing, and I think a second one was planned. So they had some concerns about housing. But very local.
Howard pointed this out afterwards. He said, "Did you notice what they were saying? We wanted to talk about planning for the neighborhood, and they wanted to talk about what was happening for them on the street in the neighborhood." Real life concerns. A plan on paper is not what they were after. What they wanted was something that ensured they could still live here, with reasonable rent, and safely.
It's that kind of very local concern that - it's only when you have that that you can build a structure of planning and get neighborhood support for it, or people support for it, or political support for it, because you've got to get the votes or you ain't going to get your people who support the planning on the Commission in the first place.
So the fact that they had concerns, even though they were parochial to the architects, I thought that was a really great sign because I thought, "They're going to support somebody who comes up with a good idea," and that proved to be true later.
So let me go back to this retreat. One of the getting-to-know-you things we did was - everybody had a little piece of paper, and you would write down there what you thought of the other people in the room, and then we would open these little pieces of paper, right? And it was interesting because it never occurred to me that they were going to write something about me, but when they opened my piece of paper, my view of the other people in the room, I had written "intelligent." As far as they knew, I was working with the hospital - I don't even know how I got invited in the first place. I think it was because I liked some of the people, and they took a chance, and it worked out okay.
But when they opened the paper about me, the question was - as I remember, and it's vague, but I remember they were asking, "What is her motivation for being here?" I didn't have a reason for being there. You know, I was just kind of going with the flow, as they said in the 60s.
I was an interested bystander at that point. I was not a member of Northwest District Association. And I was not looking out for the hospital's interest - that was not my bailiwick - I was not hired to look out for the hospital's interest. I was hired to look to see how that dispute could be resolved.
So maybe I went a little further than what the hospital had originally intended, but - that's neither here nor there, and I'll get to that.
Basically as that fall went on, a number of things happened that were really significant. One was that the PDC hospital proposal was rejected by the feds. There was a change of policy on the federal level. Who would have been President in '71? The change of policy was that they weren't going to take on any more projects like the Model Cities project at all. The Model Cities project had a five-year life span, so it was going to continue, but the feds weren't going to take on any more neighborhood projects And also I think because it came with an institution's name on it, Good Samaritan Hospital. I think that was another reason. The picketing didn't help, either, mind you.
EB: Also, that hospital renewal project was a special category of funds for universities and hospitals in urban areas, and so that was always short of money.
RB: So that left the hospital kind of standing there. The PDC had approached them about putting this proposal in. It had been approved by the City Council, had been submitted, and then they were left there with people picketing them and no proposal, either. And still with the same problems that they had always had, and I'll switch for a moment to that.
The hospital needed to expand and upgrade their facilities to keep up, and in particular they were using an old house for the medical records, and that was an antiquated system. They had just gotten their first computer, and it filled a whole little room. Not a big room, but a small - like the bedroom in an apartment. The thing was enormous. It had reels and stuff. Looked like the ones I had seen at the university, but it wasn't quite as big as those. So they were already starting.
They had purchased a number of houses in the area, and they were renting them, and they were not being well taken care of because why should they put money on houses that they were going to tear down to build?
But they had purchased wherever they could, and it was kind of scatter-shot through the neighborhood, and it had gone further away from the campus of the hospital than the neighbors felt they should. It was attracting a lot of traffic, and with loud sirens in the middle of the night. Hospitals are necessary, but not an attractive nuisance. A necessary nuisance, let's call them.
So it didn't make sense to gut the center of the neighborhood housing for a hospital which - anyway, to have acquired the rest of the blocks would have cost them more money than they really wanted to spend. And so while I was looking at the neighborhood and their point of view on this thing - traffic, housing stock being depleted and so forth - on the other hand, from the hospital's side, they did need to upgrade, and they were the major institution that everybody in that neighborhood turned to whenever they had a medical emergency. Your kid fell out of a tree, where do you take him? You take him to Good Sam.
So I did a study of the emergency room, and for three months I just went into the medical records office and looked at the address of everybody who came into that emergency room. I discovered that in the immediate area - which was Northwest Portland and Goose Hollow, and the area in between them, and the Willamette Heights neighborhood - entries to the emergency room from those addresses were 25 percent of the people. But they were not 25 percent of the city's population by a long shot. They were maybe eight or nine percent at the most.
So it was obvious that the hospital was fulfilling a local need, too, and when you went down to the Northwest District Association board, this one had had a kid that - Edgar Storms, his kid had fallen out of a tree and Edgar Waehrer, somebody in his family, I think his wife had had a medical emergency. And you could just go around the table, everybody was connected to this hospital. It wasn't that they didn't want the hospital, they just didn't want the hospital to gut the neighborhood.
So there was a lucky moment when on his way out of the door one day Claire Siddall said to me something like, "Well, if the hospital can't take all those houses and build on those blocks, where is it going to build, on the street?" And I said, "Well, what do you mean?" And he said, "Well, we could just - if the street wasn't there, we could just build right out from off the hospital and just build..."
I said, "Well, you know, there's a lot of people around here who don't want the traffic going up Marshall Street because it tends to go into the neighborhood." I added, "You know, I think you could get a street closure and the neighborhood would support that." He said, "They would?" Because there hadn't been any street closures in Portland that I knew about in recent years. And I said, "I think so."
I don't remember who carried the message, if it was Claire or me, but anyway, they started talking about that as a proposal, and everybody was for it. The neighborhoods for their own reason. But this was the beginning of planning, and the cooperation between the institutions and the neighbors in Northwest Portland was necessary to make that planning project work - true everywhere, but especially here.
So we go into City Council with this proposal. By this time I had been hired by the neighborhood assn., in September 1972 - well, that was half a year later. I worked a year for the hospital, and at the end of that time the neighborhood association decided they were going to open an office, and they wanted to have somebody take care of their correspondence, their phone, their minutes, the whole thing. They wanted to have a proper office. They didn't have much money. So I agreed - I applied when my contract with the hospital had only a month or so left to run. I was interested. I thought this was great. This was right in the community, and I loved the community, and working for a neighborhood office was about the most exciting thing I could think of.
So my contract with the hospital was over September 1, and I had filed a report and talked with Chet Stocks about it, and had started to move. When my contract was up, I didn't ask for it to be renewed. Instead I applied to be the new executive secretary, and later executive director, of the Northwest District Association.
They had interviewed four or five people, and they decided I had the most experience and the most understanding and that they would hire me, but they had $1,000. I said, okay, I would do a year with them for $1,000 at half time. But obviously I had to live, and I had a nice inexpensive little apartment in Northwest Portland, but...
I had been approached by Dick Ivey. They were going to have a freeway study because the neighbors had won their case in court, and they won it on the grounds that the provisions of the new National Environmental Policy Act had not been adhered to in the decision to build this freeway. It didn't have citizen participation, and it didn't have any environmental impact statement. So they were going to have to write an environmental impact statement, which meant citizen participation.
And when he approached me, I thought, "Well, how can I do both?" And then I thought, "Well, you know, somebody's got to keep an eye on those guys." I was very excited because it meant income, again half-time, but it meant income that would support me in doing what I loved to do, which was working for the neighborhood association. So I was up-front with everybody, and they all - this was very highly irregular for somebody to work both sides of the street, but I had just done it for a year. So they thought, "Well, maybe she could." So they said, "All right," because it meant they got their executive director.
We rented an office right there on 23rd Street, and I would spend the mornings there. In the afternoons I would go over to Thurman Street, where they had hired - I think they subcontracted four firms to do the technical work on the freeway study - and I worked with Dick Ivey for the citizen participation part. I don't know how much detail you want, but that was a year, also.
EB: And the District Association was by that time, then, starting to really get organized and get involved in other things, as well?
RB: Well, they pretty much stuck to their original projects: the freeway, the hospital, and planning. Because when the urban renewal proposal went down, they suddenly realized that a chance to be involved in planning had also been lost.
About that time, John Perry started doing a plan for the Northwest District, which would be broader than the urban renewal area, and would have been what they needed, anyway, if they were eventually going to get any money for that urban renewal project.
What happened in the first few months of the time that I was the executive director for the NWDA, we went into City Council for the closure of Marshall Street, and we got three votes for that. And I thought, "Wow, passes, three to two," and then the Mayor goes, bang, "This measure is defeated." And I was saying, "Why?" And it turns out you need four votes to close a street, and nobody told us. We're supposed to know, right? So on the way out of the hall - we were very disappointed, but we hung around for a while and talked about it, and then on the way out of the hall I ran into Neil, back behind City Hall. And he said, "Well, what are you going to do?" I said, "Well, the neighborhood's not going to drop this." And I think he was a little bit surprised. And he said, "Well, are you going to approach Commissioner McCready?" And I said, "No, we're going to approach Commissioner Anderson," who had voted against it.
And he said, "Oh," and I don't think he realized that Anderson - Lloyd knew everybody who was on the Northwest District Association board. When he ran his campaign, he had been out in Northwest, he had been entertained, they had supported him, they had made contributions, Ogden Beeman knew him.
So we set up a meeting, and Chet Stocks went for the hospital. I was amazed, Chet went himself, with Claire. And I think it was Bing and Ogden - a delegation of three, and I went. We sat in Commissioner's Anderson's office, and I think what had happened was that Lloyd Anderson just plain did not believe that the neighborhood association and the hospital had agreed on something. I think it was so surprising to him, combined with the fact that he was an engineer, and engineers don't close streets, they build streets. So he was just surprised as he could be. He talked to everybody in that room, and he made sure that nobody was pressuring anybody else but that both parties wanted it, but for different reasons. It came back in on Council the next week, and it passed, four to one. I think Connie voted against it. But it didn't matter. We had the four votes, and that was enough. I could have been wrong, she might have voted for that, but I don't think so. I think it stayed four-one.
It had been a surprise to us in the first place that Ivancie had voted for it, but he was also a politician, and if the hospital was for it, he wasn't going to be opposed to it. That really gave an opportunity, and if I'm not mistaken, there was a rider on that bill that offered a small amount of money for a planning study for Northwest Portland because to come in and offer to close a street piecemeal was a band-aid approach, and I think they put aside $25,000, if I'm not mistaken, to do a small planning study. It's vague in my memory, but I think that was the turning point.
EB: Could have been - because I know that by the time I came in the fall of '73, John Perry had been working out there and had already made a presentation to the Planning Commission long before I got there, but it had just kind of fizzled out.
RB: It did fizzle out.
EB: No more work was being done.
RB: I think he didn't have enough time and enough resources to really do the job that needed to be done, and not enough political support. He had support from the architects, and he used all the information from the little block meetings, and he met with the board, and he met with the hospital, and he met with all those guys. But one man on a project that big, kind of got overshadowed by the freeway study.
EB: When I got there the impression I have was that the situation with the hospital had been somehow worked out. There was more agreement than disagreement anymore between the hospital and the neighborhood, that I-505 was in the works. It was in 1974, though, when it came crashing down on everybody's head.
RB: No, no. That was planned. I have to tell you the story.
EB: Okay. But the thing that arose during John Perry's work was the enormous antipathy between the industrial landowners and the residential areas and how that split was not at all worked out.
RB: But see, if somebody like you had been at the Planning Commission when he was doing his study, there would have been a chance for that, but there was no leadership at the Bureau.
EB: I think that was a large part of it. I think that was definitely a large part of it.
RB: And he brings in his report, and nobody knows what to do with it. Know what I'm saying? It sat there. That was not John's fault. But John didn't have the political muscle to make it count.
EB: No. Well, it was never John's fault. I mean, John was - like I say, he was the first guy in there working on a plan.
RB: He was the first guy in there.
EB: But anyway, go ahead. You had another story.
RB: The story of the freeway study. I've written already some of this, but...
Part II: The I-505 Freeway
RB: It took a year. There were four technical studies that were part of this. The first meeting was - we had put flyers all over and everything, and a lot of people came out, and they wanted to shout and jump up and down, but Dick Ivey just basically told them, he said, "Look, we're not starting with any presumptions here. There are four possible options. We're going to do some technical studies, and then it's going to go to the City Council, and at the City Council the decision will be made." And the people relaxed a little bit because by that time Neil was - let's see, we're talking about late '72.
EB: He was a Commissioner then. He may have run in '72 and already won the Mayor's seat. He won a majority vote in May Primary of '72.
RB: I think he had already won but not been inaugurated. That's where I think we were. This meeting was probably in December; we started in October. Something like that.
Anyway, the neighbors relaxed a little bit because there was trust around Neil, and the complexion of the whole city politics was in a huge shuffle. Terry Schrunk was retiring. There was a vacancy created by Neil winning the mayorship, and somebody was going to be appointed to that, and it turned out that was Mildred Schwab, and the whole thing was changing. So people relaxed a little bit because obviously you don't beat up on the guys that are doing your technical study. You want instead to get your point of view across to the guys who are doing the technical study. And you know you're up against the industrialists, who are certainly going to have their ear.
So they kind of cooled down after the first meeting, and not as many people came to the subsequent meetings, but the interesting thing was that the intelligent people came. There were a few people, Martin Davis was one - he lived in Willamette Heights, and he made sure he was at every meeting. He went in and he met the technical guys in the open house, and he read those reports. I mean, that kind of neighborhood interest and the neighborhood support that a guy like that can bring, you know, it's phenomenal. And he wasn't paid, he just - that was his neighborhood, by heavens, and he was going to be there for it. It was a more idealistic time, I guess, in a certain sense.
Lo and behold, the technical studies showed that most of the industrial land was already developed. There weren't very many large vacant parcels in the industrial area. So the amount of traffic could not be expected or projected to increase by any large numbers. What they basically had to do was deal with the traffic that was coming into that area, and that didn't necessarily mean that you would tear down a neighborhood to do that, and the neighbors certainly didn't want to do that.
It turned out that not only were the industrialists and the neighborhood people, the residents, there; but there was another whole group of people that hadn't even been foreseen, and that was the commercial interests along Thurman Street. Everybody thought these were just little shops, but as it turned out there were people - that land was zoned commercial - they were holding it, they expected - they didn't want to sell it for a freeway, they wanted to sell it - or develop it - and it was a significant number of people. In the end they built the new food co-op there. The food co-op was the anchor point for the start of the redevelopment, commercial redevelopment - small, neighborhood stores - of that street after the freeway decision was made. Tom Walsh built that building as I remember.
So when they finished the study they had a stack of reports, it was this high. What's that? Nine, ten inches. Who was going to read all that?
So Dick and I got the job of boiling it down to a report, and the report was - he loaned me an IBM Selectric - you know, with the spinning wheel, these latest fancy typewriters and it was electric, so it was light touch, right? And I set about reading these reports. I knew all the guys, and I had worked with them every day for almost a year, so I kind of knew what each one of them were saying, but it was buried in there. My job was to pull it out, get it on paper in a good enough text that Dick could go through it and throw out all the extra words, he was good at that, and hone it down to something that we could give to City Council. The Environmental Impact Statement was only this thick by the time we were done, less than an inch, we thought really great.
But Dick saw that the City Council was never going to read three-quarters of an inch of technical reports, much less the people. He put in a bid to produce a citizens' report so we really could deliver on the citizen participation requirement. We had a month, and he asked me if I wanted to work downtown at CH2M Hill, and I said, "You know, I'd be distracted by all the other projects down there." It was a fascinating place. I thought if I worked at home - and at this point I was renting one of the townhouses that Bing Sheldon and Dennis Wilde had bought right there, and I was living in one of those, Bing's, I think. So we brought the typewriter over there, set it up, and I spent a week trying to boil down everything.
Judy Galantha from CH2M-Hill came to see me, and we sat on the porch. "Why did she come to see me?" I'm wondering. And she's saying, you know, "Interesting thing about these reports is that they have to come in on time." I said, "Yes, I can see that." And she said, "Well, the reason is because if they don't come in on time, you start eating up the profit from the project, and then when you've eaten up all the profit on your own project, you start eating the profit on other people's projects in the firm." I could see immediately what she was saying, and I understood why she had come out there to have tea. And the project was done on time.
We produced an eight-page tabloid shaped newspaper, mostly maps, with a short description of each of the five alternatives - a list showing how many houses would be affected, how much traffic could be carried, etc. Thurman Street got the lowest rating, so the neighbors could relax. The question was: which alternative would best serve the industrial area?
Dick was for the short I-505, which would just take the traffic in Yeon and dunk it down in the industrial area where it needed to be, cross over - you have to get over the railroad lines, and the railroad for once was being cooperative. I think that was because of - I can't be sure, but I think it was probably because of the involvement of people like Glenn Jackson, who was head of the Highway Commission, and he was interested in getting a resolution out there.
EB: Well, also, as it turned out there was virtually no crossing of the streets by the trains.
RB: There were hardly any trains!
EB: That's right, there were hardly any trains. I mean, it didn't turn out to be eventually much of a concern.
RB: No, but the thing is that they did have to re-lay a couple of pieces of track to avoid several conflicts, and those were all deliveries for the industrial area. They were not through traffic, so that made it easier.
[End of Side 2, Tape 1]
RB: So we brought this tabloid paper out, and it was on newsprint, and each page was a half page map of the alternative, and then there was a little box underneath that that gave the pro's and con's of each of those alternatives, and some numbers, what would happen if... eight pages, and there were five alternatives. There was a front page with a nice pretty picture of the neighborhood, and a back page where it could be mailed, and then there was one other page of data about the neighborhood and citizen participation, documentation of that.
So this comes into pre-Council, and Council looks at it and thinks about it, and it comes down to the short Yeon and the long Yeon. And the long one would go through the industrial area and all the way out to St. Helen's Road on its way out to the Harborton development, and the short one would just bring the traffic into the industrial area and distribute it.
Well, we - all the do-gooders, we thought that the short one was the best alternative because it would cost the least federal money, and it would do the job, and it wouldn't impact the neighborhoods too badly, and they could figure out how they would do the intersections, so the traffic wouldn't impact the neighborhood, and it would probably produce a little bit of money for planting trees, which was our favorite project. So the Council doesn't make any decisions in pre-Council, but they looked it over, and they complimented the citizens' report, and the citizens could read it, and Connie McCready actually complimented it, which I thought - that was probably the highest compliment that I had had in my life up to that point. But she didn't know who was responsible till after she had made the compliment. And Dick was very gracious about sharing the credit for that.
So we go in to City Council, and there's testimony from various people. Some of these people were from the Highway Department and some from the neighborhood, and they take it under advisement, and they decide the long Yeon. Why the heck would they want to spend that much money to do this job?
Afterwards I was informed that they picked the I-505 because it dedicated a lot of federal money and would therefore require the dedication of more federal money to Portland. I think that they already knew that the law was changing in the Congress and that they would be able to trade that in on high-speed transit for the city of Portland.
EB: They actually traded it in on a lot of projects.
RB: Yes. But that was the one they wanted.
EB: That was part of the money they could use for transit, right.
RB: Yes. So I think it was a hope and a prayer at that level. They didn't have any commitment from the feds or anything, but I think there was a hope and prayer there that they would someday be able to do more than one project from that dedicated money.
EB: Do you recall the tunnel, the sort of last-minute - as I recall it, it was like at the last minute the Highway Department comes charging in with an I-505 that goes down Thurman but has a tunnel over the top, and there's a park built on that...
RB: ...overpass kind of a thing.
EB: Right. Do you remember that?
RB: Not well. Why is that significant?
EB: Because that was an option they threw in there at the end.
RB: Well, that was to be on top of Thurman Street, though. They would put it underneath, and they would keep all the sound underground, and they would have all the trees planted and everything. Yeah, that was part of it. That was so expensive. But it didn't matter whether it was cheap or not, the neighbors just simply would not have a part of anything on Thurman Street, period. They didn't want it.
EB: That was one of the things that Lloyd and the engineers kind of cooked up to try to get an alignment down Thurman.
RB: But, you know, from the beginning it was obvious that the industrialists didn't support that because it didn't serve them. What it did was route the traffic around them. That's not what they needed. They needed traffic routed into them because the trucks were making deliveries to the industrialists, and shipping out from there.
And the other thing: Consolidated Freight was right there. That was their main depot. And also Rudy Wilhelm. They were both right there. They needed quick access to the freeway, but not to go to Harborton. They needed to get on the I-405 to get onto the I-5 to get out of Northwest Portland.
So they didn't see any point in putting it down Thurman Street. That bypassed them. That's not what they wanted. It was interesting because again the industrialists and the neighbors, for different reasons, came to the same conclusion, that Thurman Street was not a viable option.
And the Highway Department, they were out to lunch as far as everybody else was concerned because they kept bringing this thing up again as if it was a viable alternative, and there was no support for it.
EB: Well, it's just because they started off with this idea of "We need a big, high-capacity road there. We don't want to go right through that industrial area because that would cost too much money, so let's go down where those old rickety houses are."
EB: But ultimately what they agreed upon was that we don't need a great, big, high-capacity road...
EB: ...so you don't have to wipe out everything in sight, you can in fact go right down the very goddamned same right-of-way we already have.
EB: So it was an interesting kind of conversion.
RB: It was the right decision.
EB: It was the right decision; you're right.
RB: So in a way that boosted Neil's support in the neighborhood, and I think it also boosted support for planning because now we had two planning successes. Again, there was another planning study funded for Northwest Portland, but this was a bigger one. It wasn't just John Perry, it was to be - I think Art Barfield worked on that, and Denny Wilde worked on that. You worked on that.
EB: We originated it as part of that neighborhood planning. It basically was just taking what John had started and beefing it up and handling all the issues and dealing with the zoning issue which had not come up for official action until then.
RB: Well, the other thing was: what made that politically viable was the involvement of Bill Scott. He was on the board of the Northwest District Association by this time. He lived between 23rd and 24th on Overton, and he was Neil's Chief of Staff on his daytime job.
So there was not only support, there was muscle. And when Bill Scott sat down to talk with the people at the hospital, you know, he didn't walk into the room like a neighbor, he walked into the room like he had moxie. And he liked them, and they liked him, and I think that made a difference. The planning had to be taken seriously, that's what I'm saying. Had to be taken seriously.
EB: Well, it was a bunch of hard-driving, smart guys that were involved - and women, too, that were involved in this. The Northwest District was their own neighborhood turf.
RB: They were just at a crucial moment in timing where the laws were changing on the national level, due mainly to the fight of the neighborhoods in the Eastern United States.
Part III: Model Cities
EB: I was interested that virtually none of the experience of the Model Cities program in Portland had seemed to work to the advantage of the other neighborhoods.
RB: Well, I lived in Irvington, and I lived on 13th Street, which was regarded as... well, how I got there was through a friend of mine who was a professor at Portland Community College. She wanted to buy a house, and she got a very low-interest loan on a very nice old house, and we thought it was great; she bought this place, we both moved there in 1969 and I lived there a year.
Later on we found out this loan was part of a neighborhood stabilization, that a lot of the older white people who'd been in the neighborhood were dying off, and let's say families of color had started to move in - the line was kind of like along 11th and 12th. Grand Avenue was no longer the line, but those houses - they were where people had lived during the War when they worked up in the naval yard or shipyard or whatever it was up there, Kaiser yards. And then, you know, time went on, they'd settled there, they had families, the families started spreading out a little bit, and Irvington was scared, it needed stabilization. The neighborhood knew that there had to be integration, but they didn't want it to turn from being completely white to being completely black; that didn't make sense.
So how did you stabilize it? You made low-interest loans available, not only for black families, but for young white people who were kind of committed to giving that neighborhood a chance and who loved those old houses and who didn't mind if the next-door neighbor was a black person or an Indian or whatever, it didn't matter, but that they were - it was the times, they were idealistic. I lived in that neighborhood until I went over to Northwest Portland, and it was peaceable, it worked, the neighborhood did get stabilized.
EB: And the neighborhood was really fighting hard against the block-busting. It was a very strong attack on the neighborhood by realtors and others - but they focused a lot on the schools, too. But Rode O'Hiser did a plan for them. I think the Irvington Neighborhood Association must have come out of the Model Cities.
RB: It pre-existed.
EB: Dean Giswold was I think on the Model Cities board.
RB: Yes, but it pre-existed. That's right, but that one existed, and there was a little incipient - well, the black community was organized around the churches that were up there, and the white community, there was an Irvington, and there was one other... There was one other neighborhood association that pre-existed, and then the church organizations for the black community. And I don't know who drew the boundary. That would have been an interesting question, to figure out who drew that boundary. But obviously it had to be approved by the City and it had to be approved by the feds, and what it meant was - well, it was for the housing, primarily. And the idea also was that it was going to give a boost to economic development, in a way that would be like local businesses, because there - you know, there had actually been a riot along Union Avenue, a so-called riot. A lot of window breaking had happened. Right around the time of some - I want to say '68. It was right when I first moved to Portland.
EB: When Martin Luther King was killed?
RB: It might have been that, but I don't remember. Anyway, a lot of windows had been broken, and some of them were still boarded up, so that meant that car dealerships and things that had been there along that street had fled.
I don't know about the block-busting so much as I do know that the economic bottom had fallen out of those neighborhoods, and that was a serious a problem because the unrest that could have resulted from that - you know, people in Portland never really could have imagined that somebody in Portland would go out and throw a rock through a showroom window. That was such a shock. Such a shock. And obviously something had to be done.
EB: The schools were big on Irvington's list. They did use the housing loans actually better than the black communities did in the first years.
RB: Yes. Because even in the black neighborhood, you still had to have an income to qualify for one of those loans; the interest was low, but you had to have an income. And the unemployment rate in that neighborhood I remember for the young black people was over 20 percent, and then the average, it was still around 16 percent unemployment. So you know, some of those houses were charming old houses, but really, really run down, too, and why would anybody want to borrow money and spend 25 years paying it off for a house that was falling apart faster than that?
So they had built in rehab loans - you know, certain things that had to be brought up to code before it could be part of this program. That also excluded some houses that could not be brought up to code economically.
Model Cities did a number of things, in my view. One is it provided an example of how it would be possible to organize, not that it necessarily was always fulfilled. And there was another program out there in the same time, which Hazel Hayes headed up, which was to provide economic development.
They ran into some difficulties - I don't want to say accounting irregularities, I don't think that's true, but keeping track of where all the money was going with inexperienced people, let's put it like that. And they finally would get it all worked out; they had to hire an accountant and spend the money to do that.
When Charles Jordan came in, it shifted, because he had real leadership potential, and he was respected by people. He was tall, he was good-looking, he was intelligent, he was witty, he was easy to talk to, whether your skin was white or black, and he respected the churches and the churches respected him. He dressed well, carried himself well, and that made a difference for Model Cities, and they were able to complete the five years of the program.
But I don't think - I mean, from about the third year on it was pretty obvious that there would not be any attempt to extend the length of that program. And what the neighborhoods didn't like about it was that, you know, "We're Americans here, and we want to run our own show," and Model Cities was not run by the neighborhoods. Model Cities was run by the people who held the purse strings, the feds.
So the neighbors didn't particularly want to have that kind. They wanted a grassroots organization, even if it didn't have any money. Then they didn't have to have any accountants, but what they said was... the City's got all this money, our tax money, we want some of that back for our neighborhood, never mind bringing in all these federal guys with their fancy suits. That wasn't their interest at all.
Northwest was lucky because they were so rich in architects. There was such a wealth of talent in that neighborhood. Not all the neighborhoods had that much talent. But every neighborhood that organized did so because there was a core group of people who were ready to stand up for it. I was instrumental in helping 30 neighborhoods to get organized. There were 30 or 29 already organized when I came on.
Part IV: District Planning Organizations and the Office of Neighborhood Associations
RB: My first job at City Hall was to make a map of where they thought their boundaries were. They gave me a map over at the Planning Department - I came over to you, and we got a big map, and I just went around to all the neighborhoods, "Where do you think your boundaries are?"
EB: Now, let's talk about how this really got started - I mean, the official neighborhood organization, the recognition of neighborhoods, granting them a formal place in the decision process by the City. Why don't you talk about what you remember about all that?
RB: Well, Neil funded a one-year study (District Planning Organizations or DPOs). Ogden was the vice-chairman of this, and it was to look into how to organize the neighborhoods because obviously they were popping up all over, how was the City going to relate to these guys and how were they going to relate to the City? Neil didn't want it to be hostile. He had to be pulling in the same direction because he could make more progress that way. If he had support from the grassroots, and if they had him spearheading it, he could go a lot further.
So it was formed and appointed and set up as a commission, and Connie Veet was their staffperson. A commission or a committee - but anyway, a study group of some sort. Sarah Smith was very involved in it, and people all over town, basically, but there was some that were more organized than others. Anyway, Connie Veet was the staff person.
They released a report - I was not involved with it at that stage - and on the basis of that report Neil set aside some money in the next budget to get something going. That was in the spring of his first term, so that would be the spring of '73. And when they did that, I think I just instinctively knew that I wanted to work with that. My contract with the Neighborhood Association was up in August, and the freeway study was up in August - everything was done. There was no reason why I couldn't be free. So I didn't apply to renew any of those things because I wanted - when the city position was open, I wanted to apply there.
Neil gave this task to Mildred - actually, Mildred approached Neil, and Neil said yes. He otherwise would have kept it himself. But he knew he had himself and one other vote, and if he gave it to Mildred, then he had three votes. So he gave it to Mildred, and she opened the applications, and on the last day of applications I handed my application to Mildred's secretary, and then I took off on a bicycle trip down to the Coast. I couldn't believe how far I got how fast; 50 miles in a day sounded like a lot on a bike.
After I'd been gone about a week or 10 days, I called back to see if anything had happened on this application, and Mildred herself came on the line and said, "Where are you? You have an appointment in the Mayor's Office in two days at 3 o'clock!"
I said, "Okay, I'll be there." So I packed up the bicycle, broke it down, put it in a box, came back on the bus and went in for my appointment at 3 o'clock. Margie Lundell was on the committee, Bill Scott, Dwight Nickerson from Ivancie's office, and Paul Linnman from Mildred's office and Mike Lindberg from Lloyd Anderson's, I think. Can't remember...
EB: When was this, again? Fall of '73?
RB: Um-hmm. September '73. It was right before you came, I think, or right around the same time.
The thing is they had to wait - it goes with the budget cycle, and the budget didn't get adopted 'til May and implemented the first of July, so none of these things Neil could really get moving until he had the budget for it.
So the thing about this interview was, I knew Margie from the Harborton fight, and I knew Bill Scott from Northwest District Association, and I knew Nickerson, a little bit, not much, but I enjoyed his sense of humor so much. So we were having a good time in this interview, and suddenly the key moment, I had made a pause to make a point, and the cuckoo clock went, "Cuckoo! Cuckoo!" right in the middle of the interview in the Mayor's Conference Room. We all cracked up, and that was it. None of us could take it seriously from that point on.
Afterwards Neil and Mildred put their heads together, and I got the appointment. That was cool. I was really happy.
What happens next is you report to office at City Hall. You sign something, Mildred gives you a desk in a room with three other people, and you sit down at this desk and think, "Now what do I do?" I had the report there, but it was clear that a number of things needed to happen.
EB: Let's go back before this a little bit, because before you could be hired, they had to have an ordinance or something creating an Office of Neighborhood Associations?
RB: No. The ordinance, that was my job, to get the ordinance together.
EB: I see. So this is a resolution to hire somebody to begin the City's work?
RB: To bring a proposal to the City, to the Council, that's what it was.
So I sit at my desk, and I'm thinking, "Gosh, how do you write an ordinance? I'm not a lawyer." Mildred said, "You just go down to the City Attorney's Office and tell them what you need, and I'll support it." I said, "Okay." I go down to the City's Attorney's Office, and I ask for some help in writing an ordinance, and I'm assigned a guy, and he's not in his office. So I come back to my desk, and I think, "What we really need is a map, a list. We've got a partial list here, but that's not everybody." So I'm on the phone half the time, I came over to your bailiwick, we got a map, we take it around to the neighborhoods. They're drawing their boundaries, and they're overlapping. And Mildred said, "Well, what do you do about the overlaps?" I said, "We don't need to do anything about the overlaps, because that just means there's two sets of people advocating for that area. No problem."
"Okay. But don't we have to have the support of both of them for anything that happens in there?" I said, "Yeah, but if Model Cities can have overlaps, we can have overlaps."
"Well, they wouldn't let Model Cities have overlaps."
"I know," I said, "That was so stupid, wasn't it?"
Mildred and I would just talk all the time back and forth, and she cared about Portland. She had a very big heart. She had a short fuse, also, but her rule of thumb was you never lose your temper outside the office. And when she hired me, she said, "This is the rule: You never lose your temper outside the office, and if you're going to lose your temper, I want you in my office losing your temper." Okay, that was the deal.
Whenever things would get too hot, we would go and have dinner. We'd go up to the Pancake House or 23rd and Burnside, and we'd find out how each of us was thinking, and we'd say, "Let's see, if we can agree on this, we can probably find a way to get everybody else to agree on it." But at least if we could agree from our different perspectives - we were cross-generations, we were cross-religions, we were cross-country origins. We both had good educations, and we were both women and women were just - I mean, we're talking about 1973 here, women were just starting to come into political positions in Portland. They had always been very involved in the voluntary associations, but now they were getting paid for working. This was a big change.
Model Cities did have an influence there, also. They had hired women. They had the federal requirements behind them; they had to hire women. So the proposal didn't come out of the Attorney's Office. I thought, "What's going on here?" I said to Mildred, "You know, how do I connect with this guy?" - "connect" was not a word we used then. I said, "How do I get ahold of this guy?" She said, "I'll tell you what, he's a good guy, and he's a good lawyer, but go before lunch." What does lunch have to do with it? Well, 11 o'clock I called him up and said, "Can I come down and see you?" and he said, "Sure."
I went down. We sat together for a while, and we talked about things, and he was kind of a slow-moving guy, but he was an attorney, and he understood and... "Well, what do you need to have?" I said, "First of all, we need to have an ordinance that..." and I laid out what I thought came from the citizens' report and what I thought Mildred would accept, and if she accepted it--she's a lawyer--Neil would accept it because he's a lawyer, and this is what we've got to have. But this is what the neighbors have got to have." And he's looking at me, saying, "Oh, my God, this is great." Then he would go out to lunch, and you wouldn't see him till 3 o'clock. But slowly as I met with him and thought about it and talked with Mildred, some language started to come out.
EB: What was his name, do you remember?
RB: I don't remember. I remember him. I remember enjoying his sense of humor. Very dry. And he would say, "No, you'll never get that through Council."
"Well, how will do it so we can get it through Council?"
"Well, you do it like this."
"Okay, let's do it like that, then."
And he was forced to write in the way that if I asked the right question, I'd get the right answer, but I had to ask the right question. So then I would go up to Mildred, and I would go back and forth between Mildred and the lawyer and some of the people I depended on for good information whom I knew from the neighborhood associations.
Mildred felt we had to get the proposal out within a couple of months, so we came out with a proposal in the late fall and scheduled a meeting. I was used to a very supportive neighborhood association, where you just asked for a meeting, and they came. No problem. You presented what you were thinking about, and they thought about it, and they gave you the benefit of their wisdom, and then they voted and they decided what they were going to do, right?
The meeting was held over at one of the churches in Goose Hollow. By the time I got there with the charts and everything and the copies of this proposal, it was packed. There were like a hundred people in the room, and they were screaming mad, and I couldn't figure out why.
I was presenting the provisions, the draft, and - "Well, what about this?" And I said - you know, answering the questions: "Well, it was felt that this would be a more legal way to do it," da da da. And the thing they were the most mad about was the final provisions of the ordinance establishing the Office of Neighborhood Associations, which called for a small bureau.
The thing was, from my experience in Northwest Portland, I knew that unless we had a staff, maybe only one person, and maybe shared by several neighborhoods - because the Council would never support one for each neighborhood - that would make the budget too huge - but unless there was some staff that the neighbors could call their own, they would always be dancing to the tune of the City, and that was not in the City's interest. The City needed to know what the neighborhoods were thinking because even just a simple thing like finding out what the neighbors needed, the City couldn't decide that from downtown, and everybody knew it. They had been doing it for years, and they'd been getting worse at it all the time.
So I felt there had to be staff, and I had written it into this ordinance. Well, that was not in the original DPO report, you see. So I'm sitting there thinking, "Well, how the hell do they think they're going to accomplish anything if they don't have some staff of their own?" And I'm trying to make this point, and they're getting madder and madder, and finally Ogden Beeman stood up. He saved my hide that night. He stood up, and he said, "I've read the provisions of this proposal, and I was on the original committee that wrote the original study that went to the City" - very deliberately choosing words and waiting for everybody to calm down and listen to him. And then he said, "In my view, this proposed ordinance, is in substantial agreement with the study that we wrote." And he sat down.
And that took the wind out of the sails of the opponents. Yes, there were things in there that hadn't been in the original proposal, but you know what? I found out afterwards I had made two mistakes. One was inadvertent and inherent, and the other was dumb.
The first, inherent one was that a lot of the people who were making the most noise had supported Connie Veet for the position that I got. Actually she had taken her name out, and I had gone to see her, and I said, "Is this really what you want to do?" And she said, "Yes." But her friend, Sarah Smith had been proposed. She had not been chosen, but they were close buddies. So it seemed to me that the people who had supported Connie and Sarah were mad at me, for no reason other than that I was an upstart from Northwest Portland.
The second thing that was dumb is I didn't have the people - I didn't ask the people who had been on the original study committee to come and be at the board and kind of front for the proposal. I hadn't done my homework, as it turned out. Anyway, I made some meetings with some other neighborhood people and went around a little bit, and anyway, it came into the Council, and it was adopted. The vote was not unanimous.
EB: What was the vote, do you remember?
RB: The vote was four to one. I knew I had three votes, so I didn't care if I got a fourth vote or not. I didn't need it. But the interesting thing was Commissioner Ivancie voted for it, and I was surprised by that, and it kind of gave me a different view of Frank. You know, he lived in Northeast, and people he knew had come in and supported this, so he voted for it. There was no reason not to vote for it, other than the budgetary question. And the original proposal, what was in front of him, the ordinance, didn't have the budget. He knew he'd get a second crack at it in the budget round, which was a couple months later.
EB: Connie voted against it?
RB: I don't think Connie Mc Cready voted for it, no. I could be wrong.
EB: I think that's right. I think I remember the general feeling around was that Connie was never going to vote for anything like this because this was taking authority from the Council...
RB: That's right.
EB: ...putting it out into the neighborhoods, and that was just wrong, so she was like on principle she was not going to ever vote for anything even like this.
RB: But you know, Margie tried to make to her the point that actually this would improve the communications between the neighborhoods and the City Council, which would then give the Council more sway in the neighborhoods, and would - maybe not authority, but more legitimacy, you know, more respect.
It didn't fly. She was conservative in the sense - and I'm sure that her husband, Al McCready, he had a lot more influence on her maybe, but he worked at the newspaper. It wasn't like he was - he was not a troglodyte. You know, I had people classified in my mind as the dinosaurs and the young Turks, you know, but he was not a troglodyte. I never actually met him. I wasn't part of that circle of people that moved around the city and was powerful. What I knew of them was only through Mildred, really. She did move in those circles.
EB: Right. Well, there was that original proposal that Ogden and his group met on, having to do with the district planning organizations, the so-called DPO Task Force.
RB: DPO Task Force, that's what it was, right.
EB: Right. And they had the same problem with Connie, as I understand it, as well. Same principle. The Council is not supposed to hand over its authority.
RB: Well, the Council didn't hand over its authority.
EB: There were all kinds of answers to it, but that was the thing that she just hung on.
RB: That's what she thought was happening, so therefore she voted against it.
RB: Lloyd Anderson didn't think that was happening. He knew darn right well that as the Commissioner, if he could pass one ordinance, he could pass another, and he wasn't giving up any authority at all.
EB: Well, Lloyd is the first one in my records, in my research, starting back in the late '60s, to say anything about neighborhood associations. No, more like the first one to say that we need to find a way to let neighbors enter into these decisions in a systematic way. So I would really put him down as kind of the father of that, rather than anybody else.
RB: Well, you see, that was an outcome of how he ran his campaign. He went to people who were active in the city, and many of them were active in their neighborhood, in a small way. There had been other pitched battles before the Northwest ones, and some of them the neighbors had lost, particularly over zoning. But if somebody wanted to run for Council, where did you go? You went to the activists. And because of that, he had an appreciation for people like Ogden Beeman and what they were doing in the neighborhoods... Bing Sheldon... and he knew some of them through his planning work.
Also, he was the Commissioner of Public Works, and I have to tell you, one of the biggest beefs the neighborhoods had was that they could not get the Bureaus to listen to what their needs were.
EB: Right. Of course, he was probably as much a planner as an engineer when he was there at CH2M, and that was a normal part of what they did - you know, try to smooth the way for projects for cities and counties and get citizens involved, try to figure out what they want and everything.
RB: It was good for the firm.
EB: So he brought part of his professional background to it.
RB: Well, the planning movement didn't start in Portland, let's face it. It started in plenty of other places back East, and when it got to Portland, we're talking about the '70s, for heaven sakes. It started much earlier than that in places like - well, New York City, for one.
EB: Throughout the whole Eastern Seaboard.
RB: Yes, the whole Eastern Seaboard.
EB: Midwest, Chicago, places like that.
RB: Columbia was already built by that time, for heaven sakes, Columbia, Maryland. So planning had a much longer history. And actually, Portland did have a history of some planning. The parks plan goes back to 1905 or 1907 or something, Olmsted was involved with that.
EB: Olmsted Plan, the Bennett Plan. Those are early plans.
RB: Early plans. But you know, neighborhoods were formed around parks.
EB: I'm saying the Olmsted, Bennett plans were big parks, big thoroughfares. Then the big god himself, Moses, comes - he literally came from New York City with an entourage of people under contract to Portland. Went into the Benson Hotel, they stayed there a week, and when they got out, they gave Portland their plan. Take it or leave it.
RB: But that's why Moses got deposed, too. They fought Moses up and down New York City and New York State for years.
EB: He tried the same thing here.
RB: Well, in a way Glenn Jackson was Oregon's Moses.
EB: He was as good a builder as Moses, but he certainly didn't do it the same way.
RB: Oh, I don't think you'd find all the neighborhoods would agree with that. He didn't have as much authority as Moses did.
EB: Well, anyway, the consistent view I'm getting from people who worked with him in these kinds of things was that he was really much more a facilitator than he was a dictator about these things.
RB: Somebody rammed I-405 down the throats of the people on the west side of Portland.
RB: And he got - whether you call it the credit or the blame, he got it. And the downtown urban renewal, who got the credit or the blame for that?
EB: Mr. Keller.
RB: Mr. PDC.
EB: Mr. PDC, Ira Keller.
RB: Ira Keller. And they were regarded as equal to each other in the neighborhoods when I first started. I didn't know either one of them from Adam, but those were the names people would say: Glenn Jackson, Ira Keller [whispered].
EB: That's true. That's actually true. I don't know that much about Ira Keller because I never met him at all.
RB: He was a little autocratic. A little autocratic. But you know, anybody who was involved in engineering in those days, they thought they had the answers.
EB: Right. You didn't go to citizens looking for answers.
RB: No. "They don't have the education, they don't have the training. They don't have the big picture." But you know, when you think of "both/and," instead of "either/or" - it's not the big shots downtown, and it's not the little guy in the neighborhood, but when you get the two of them together, then you can actually get something done.
To me, other than the budget, the thing that I worked on the hardest was to instigate a process for the neighborhoods and the Bureaus to connect early enough in the year to get the neighborhoods' requests into the budget process in time. In time that the Bureaus could investigate them, that they could look them over, they could give them priorities. The neighborhoods actually started by giving them priorities, and so the bureaus could look at the A's first, and if they were viable, put them in the budget. Because to the Bureau, it didn't matter where a request came from. If it was a project the bureau could do, it would give them a little money, it would keep them going, and they could say they had the neighborhoods behind them.
Actually, Don Bergstrom from the Traffic Bureau came into my office one time, and he said something like, "We are not monsters." His Bureau was so - I mean, he had neighborhoods all over town fighting his engineers.
EB: Because everybody hated traffic in their neighborhood, and nobody could do anything about it except the neighbors.
RB: Well, that was part of it. The other part of it was that engineers tend to think of roads first and neighborhoods second. Let's face it. And that's why you need the balance of the planners because the planners think of the neighbors first, and then they think of the zoning and the traffic, in a good example, and I think Portland had a good example.
EB: Well, I'll tell you, this business about the neighborhoods getting involved in the budgeting, too, is that that's so crucial; I mean, planning doesn't mean anything if you don't have money. Just forget it. I mean, why do a plan? So if they had some control of resources, then they would have some control over the future of the projects in their neighborhood.
RB: Well, they had influence. Once they had input, and you could document that they had actually put in a need request, if it got lost, you had the Mayor's Office backing you up; he wanted to know how come that got lost.
So it came from both sides. That was the thing that made Portland, in my view, at that time so exciting - it was a convergence of good political leadership and active neighborhoods, a time when people were not so cynical as they are now. They had some cynicism because they did not - Americans just don't trust authority, let's face it, and they had had some bad things happen, some projects that didn't work out so well and what they thought was good for the little guy.
But once Neil was in there, and he made it clear that he was going to go for the solution that respected the neighbors, I think that made a big difference. He brought you in for Planning. He brought in Gary Stout; that was a fight. Don Bergstrom kept his position after he came in my office and said, "We are not monsters," and the Mayor took his Bureau and put it under his own office, and then for a while it was under Lloyd. But he came around. He even went to the managers' training. Remember that managers' training that we had back there? He even came to that and sat on the floor like everybody else.
EB: Oh, I thought he was a good guy, but he definitely had a different opinion about things from day one.
RB: Yes. It's just training. I mean, that's all. You know, but once the neighbors started putting in their projects for where they wanted streets, he could put all of his moxie behind: "Oh, that's a good idea," you know. And then once you had him persuaded, he could carry it through. He could get the planning, he could get the money, he could get the street built, you know, he could plant the trees - I mean, whatever you wanted. Just get him moving in the right direction.
EB: Now, let me ask you: When did you leave the City? Still in the '70s, right?
RB: Mm-hmm. '79. What happened was, my mother died in '78, and a friend said, "I'm going to India, come with me," and I went. I went back to the City, worked another year after that. But on that journey I did visit this place in India which was - I couldn't believe how beautiful it was, first of all, and how peaceful it was, and what the people were doing was just - I had never been in such an international place. I mean, people from just about every place on earth were there. Intelligent, beautiful people.
Anyway, I went back to work for another year, and then we had the sister city visit to Sapporo in August of '79. We arrived just as they were celebrating the special festival of releasing the spirits from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I always suspected that they on purpose picked those days.
Ivancie went. Mrs. Ivancie went, along with people from the neighborhoods and the School District. We had a visit from the Japanese the year before, and the Mayor had been there a number of times. After that I had thought, "Oh, I'll just tack on another visit back to this ashram," and it kind of turned out differently than I thought.
I came back to Portland after two weeks there, and I had been gone five weeks altogether, and Patti Jacobson had filled in for my position. I landed at the Portland Airport, and she came to pick me up, and I wasn't even in the car yet, she was telling me about all the great things that had happened, and I just looked at her, and it just hit me. Suddenly I said, "Patti, how would you like to have my job?" She said, "Oh, Mary, I don't..." I said, "Okay." She said, "Well, what would you do?" I said, "Well, I would go back to Poona."
And she was shocked. And I was shocked because it had not occurred to me before then. It just seemed to be the inspiration of the moment, and it also felt right.
So I talked to Mildred, told her I was going to resign. When I started, she had told me that if I ever wanted to work again in this field, I would have to stay at the City five years when I took the job, and I had been there six, and there was nowhere else to go. I did not want to work for the State, I couldn't imagine working for the feds, just the little taste I had had convinced me of that. Independent consulting was the only thing that had occurred to me, and to get started in that, I might have had referrals for that because I had been on the board of the National Association of Neighborhoods.
But you know, I had fulfilled all the ambitions I had ever had for my life, and I was only 38 years old. And it didn't seem to make sense to go on doing the same things I had been doing just because I was doing them. But nothing better came along until this came along, and then it just felt so right. At this time Charles Jordan was the head of the Bureau. He ran the Bureau differently than Mildred did, and I must say I enjoyed those two-and-a-half years with Mildred enormously, and the two-and-a-half with Charles were fine; he supported it - except for the time when the ordinance was up for renewal, and he didn't support that. That was when Mildred still had the Bureau, and we needed Charles' vote.
EB: Okay. Let's talk about renewing the neighborhood ordinance. Is that what it was?
RB: Yes. Well, what happened was a controversy blew up around the way we were using the money to support the neighborhoods, and they came in and had a big beef session in front of the Council. I knew the votes were there; I wasn't worried. But as I say, we lost a key provision.
When the original ordinance was passed, there was a provision in there, as I mentioned, for the Office of Neighborhood Associations downtown, and for a series of district offices, or you could call them neighborhood offices, where five or six neighborhoods would share the same district office, in the same way that Model Cities had shared the same office. The west side, there would be an office, Southwest eventually there was going to be one, Northeast and Southeast.
Well, Southeast had the most organized neighborhoods, and they were big neighborhoods, a lot of houses. And Larry Lubin was instrumental in Buckman. I think he was actually the president that year. And he had supported - he was one of the people I remember jumping up and down in '73 saying this new ordinance didn't follow what the district planning organization task force had originally proposed. But in the end he came around to it.
He loved his neighborhood, no question about that. But I don't think he was wholeheartedly behind everything that was happening in the neighborhoods across the city, and his interest, actually, was more - I think he wanted more economic development and more community enterprises.
And in the original ordinance the neighbors were to decide - to interview and to decide who they wanted to be their coordinator for their area, for their district, and then bring that nomination to the Commissioner. And the Commissioner had the right to say "yes" or "no," but the neighbors did the initial interview process.
That process worked in Northwest. Margaret Strachan was selected. Very successful appointment. Mildred was happy to endorse her. Jerri Mounce was chosen in North Portland after a rather contentious process, and when I supported her, Mildred supported her.
In the Northeast, we had Edna Robertson out there in Model Cities, and when that ended, Edna joined our office, and she was a delight. It was easy to incorporate Edna into the office.
The Southeast and Southwest, it was slow. And the reason for that - Southwest was different because in Southwest, those members basically didn't want to spend the money. They already had the clout, you know. Eventually they said yes, and they picked Joy Stricker, and asked her to be their secretary, not their coordinator, and they put her in a parks facility with a desk, where she was actually happy as a clam. It worked for them all the way around.
Southeast had had a different kind of a history. They didn't have Model Cities, but they had had some... I don't remember anymore how Southeast Uplift was financed, but I think their financing came from PDC.
When the Office of Neighborhood Associations was formed, the Mayor's question was why don't you want to put the Office of Neighborhood Associations in the PDC. I think he thought we would get more money there, have more clout. But I had been in the offices of the PDC, and I didn't want to go over there. I thought the action was at City Hall.
And I knew that at least in my neighborhood the name of PDC was not honored. It was unfortunate because they did have money and they did have people who were well-intentioned, but they didn't behave like neighborhood people gone to City Hall. They were top-down planners. That was unfortunate.
Anyway, Southeast Uplift was getting money for some neighborhoods, but Buckman was getting their flyers printed through my office. So that complicated matters out there a little bit. We formed an alliance with SE Uplift, and they provided some money, too, but it was not as easy as the other areas, where we were starting from kind of a - not from scratch, but on a new foundation, you know.
Well, the provision passed the City Council about the way the hiring was going to happen. Lloyd supported it, Neil supported it, and Mildred supported it. Mildred supported it because she thought unless the neighbors had somebody that they really could support, it didn't matter who the City would pick, it wouldn't work. She was very practical.
That's why we were surprised that Ivancie voted for it, and that frankly is why Connie voted against it, because she thought that the City was giving over its hiring process on the staff. But part of the deal was that the neighborhood coordinators would not be city employees in the first place, so what was the City giving away? They were not giving away civil service positions. I wasn't even civil service at the beginning. Later that was regularized, but at the beginning I was hired as a temporary.
So there were some complaints, after about a year-and-a-half, and Larry Lubin had the loudest one, and then Fran something from Irvington had the second loudest one. So the Council called a hearing for a review of the Office of Neighborhood Associations ordinance. Basically Larry got up there, and he said that he had asked for enough flyers to serve the whole neighborhood, and he had only gotten enough to serve half. So the Mayor called me up and said, "How did that happen?"
And I said, "Well, I asked how many the neighborhood needed, and I was given the number of such-and-such, and it turned out that that really was only half of the houses, and when Larry Lubin called me up, I had the others printed, and they went out there and they took care of everybody - everybody got a notice."
And the Mayor said, "Well, who was it that gave you the low number?" And I didn't want to say the name of the person because I knew she'd be in hot water in her neighborhood, and plus which she could easily deny it.
So I said, "Well, it was from a source inside the neighborhood," and the Mayor got it that I was trying to be confidential and political here, and he accepted that as his answer. She came around later and thanked me, also, because it was true that she would have gotten a lot of heat.
Some people said some nice things. Then the lady from Irvington got up, and she kind of wandered around in her talk in front of the Council for a long time. And it was getting late, and you know how the Council is when it's getting late in the afternoon, they're getting kind of itchy, and they want to go home, or they want to have a cocktail, or they want to get out of there, at least.
So at about 5:20, Fran finally sat down, and the Mayor said, "Would you like to respond?" And I was sitting practically in the back row of the Council hall, you know, kibitzing with all the neighbors, and I just got up and said, "No, Your Honor." And he was so delighted, his eyes lit up like somebody had just given him a present. "Thank you very much," bang, "The Council will take this under consideration." No decision was made that day.
In the week that followed, I was visited by a staffperson whose name was Elizabeth from Commissioner Jordan's office, and she very politely informed me that the Commissioner was not going to support the provision that allowed the neighbors to interview and choose their staff person and bring the nomination to the Commissioner for approval.
At this point Charles was newly elected, and coming from Model Cities, where it was all top-down, you would still think that he would understand from the neighborhood's point of view why they wanted to have influence, but I don't know, maybe he had made some deal and traded his vote with somebody else, or maybe this was Connie McCready's way of winning this point finally. I do not know.
When I heard that the Commissioner was not going to support the renewal of the ordinance with that provision in it, I learned I had been blind-sided - the Commissioner's staff had gone down to the City Attorney's Office and gotten new wording already written, without my being informed until that point. And it was a question whether to go to battle for the whole ordinance because of one clause. There was a gentleman's agreement from Charles Jordan that he would continue with the hiring process the way it had been instigated, but he didn't think it should be like that in the law.
This is all from Elizabeth. I never talked to Charles directly. He ran a very different office. With Mildred, I would just walk in there and say, "I need to see you about something," and she'd say, "I can't do it right now. I'll see you at 6 o'clock."
Charles, you called up, and you got his secretary, and you asked for an appointment, and the staff person came down to see you. Peter Engbretson was the one I could work with the easiest, but this time it wasn't Peter, it was this woman. I didn't know her well, but I knew she had the Commissioner's ear. And it was like late in the afternoon, and I was sitting in my office, and I had like 24 hours. Do I want to make this a fight?
And I talked it over with Mildred, and she just said, "Well, we don't have the votes without him." So the change in the hiring process was made, and the law was renewed. But I felt this weakened the ordinance. During the time I was there and Patti Jacobson after me, this was honored - neighborhoods advertised and interviewed people and made the first selection and took them to the Commissioner's Office, and Charles never said no, even when he was running the Bureau. After I left and after Patti left, subsequently it was the Commissioner's choice, and he chose somebody who had been involved in a Bureau and had a Bureau's mentality, and I was told later that that was the beginning of the end.
Part V: 1979 and Later
RB: I had studied political science, and I learned there is a principle called the iron law of oligarchy, which you maybe have heard about. Over time bureaucracy always asserts itself, and the oligarchy always prevails over the less organized people. I had tried to plug that hole by giving the neighborhoods at least that much say over who they worked with. And while I was there, it worked, six years, and Patti was there two years, total eight. And after that it shifted.
One time when I was back in Portland Jerri Mounce called together some of the people that had been active in the neighborhood organizations. One guy who had worked in my office, Lee Perlman - Lee had been a part-time student at Portland State when I first knew him, and he worked. He was an interesting guy because he actually was living what he believed, which meant that he was perpetually poor and always involved with the community. But he has the belief that if you're dedicated, therefore you can't profit from anything financially, and only when you're doing it free does it count. So he actually worked in the Office of Neighborhood Associations part-time on a very loose basis. He helped a small number of hours a week - mainly with the writing of the newsletter that the Office put out. And we always would get a graphic artist from Portland State, through their internship program to do the artwork. So every six months the artwork would change. And Lee would collect information for the articles and I would write them.
It was good to have somebody from Southeast in the office. I could count on Jerri Mounce, and I could count on people from the Northwest to call me up, and I could on the people in Southeast to call me up and complain, but through Lee Perlman I could really find out what was going on in Southeast. That was helpful.
Southwest, they had plenty of confidence. They would just call up.
So eventually the iron law of oligarchy prevailed. The way Lee Perlman put it to me when we had this party was, "The office is not the same. Since you've been gone, it's not the same." I think I was just lucky to be there in the early years.
EB: Well, I certainly would agree with Lee, and I don't even know as much about it as Lee, but how could it possibly be the same without you?
RB: Oh, Patti was very dedicated, and she knew the neighborhood needs process, but also when Neil left, that was a blow.
Bud Clark was the president of the Goose Hollow Foothills League, as it was called, but he lived in Northwest Portland. And for a while before the Goose Hollow Foothills League was actually formed, he was on the board of the Office of Neighborhood Associations. Bud had a good reputation among the neighborhoods because when the television station started forming this big neighborhood party down on the waterfront...
EB: Neighbor Fair.
RB: ...yes, the first year it was just neighborhoods. The second year it was neighborhoods and all the ethnic groups in Portland, and it just grew from there.
Bud Clark would provide the beer, a keg of beer to sell at their booth, to any neighborhood who asked for it. He really cared. And I'm sure that during the time that he was the Mayor of Portland, he did his very best for those guys.
EB: No doubt about it. I think that's why he was elected, he had that just down-home, neighborhood kind of guy.
RB: Practical. You could talk to him. And he would go all over town on his bike, of all things.
EB: Or his canoe.
RB: And he knew so many people, all over the place. And of course Goose Hollow was the place where all the newspaper reporters would hang out. It was close to the old Oregonian building. So they would just go up Jefferson Street, and there was the Goose Hollow Inn, and then the sports fans would go up there from the stadium after the games. He had a great place going and a great location. Everybody knew Bud Clark. But it wasn't like electing a mayor. It was electing a Bud Clark. And his wife had her antique business right around the back side, too.
You know, the same time I left, Neil left. He went off to be Secretary of Transportation. He was actually the one who put together the deal that saved Chrysler, among other things. I think because of his involvement in Washington also the mass transit system in Portland got started - not only there, but I heard mass transit in other cities also got funded and started because of his support from DC.
It was kind of a coincidence because I came back from the sister city visit not knowing that he was - he must have been interviewing with the Carter Administration before we went, and while we were in Japan we got the news that Neil was going to go to Washington.
I don't know if Frank knew it or not. I think he left the tour early and flew back to Portland, and the rest of us finished the tour. And I stayed two weeks longer in Japan before I went to India, so I was gone - by the time I got back, I don't think Neil was gone yet, but he was almost gone. I had to go and give my resignation to Charles Jordan, and a lot of people thought that I was going because Neil was going, but that was not relevant, coincidental.
I might have been inclined to stay longer if I had still been with Commissioner Schwab. There was a strong loyalty that grew up between us, and I always regretted that the Office was transferred out from under her. But during Neil's big shuffle; remember the New Year's Day shuffle? He took back all the Bureaus and... He had taken something else away from Charles that Charles really wanted, so he gave him the Office of Neighborhood Associations as a compensation. Mildred was so hurt by that. She loved having the Office of Neighborhood Associations, and she didn't want to give it up. And Neil said, "Well, what can we do?" He gave her the Fire Bureau. Took that away from Charles. That was a big vote-getter, the Fire Bureau, but he gave it to Mildred and he took the Office of Neighborhood Associations.
[End of Interview]