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July 2016 -- Vol. 110, No. 11

Memories of THE BEE's first 100 years!
In 2006, THE BEE celebrated its centennial of serving Southeast Portland!  A special four-page retrospective of Inner Southeast Portland's century, written by Eileen Fitzsimons, and drawn from the pages of THE BEE over the previous 100 years, appeared in our September, 2006, issue.
Click here to read this special retrospective!


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Joe Galati, Llewellyn Elementary School, lead, radon
Joe Galati, Principal of Llewellyn Elementary School in Westmoreland, stocks bottled water for his students as a precautionary measure. (Photo by David F. Ashton)

Lead and radon scares raise concerns in local schools

By DAVID F. ASHTON
For THE BEE

Reports of significant levels of lead in drinking water at two Portland Public School (PPS) facilities ignited a firestorm of controversy regarding water safety at all of the district’s schools, just days before the end of the school year.

While the teachers were at work in their classrooms in Westmoreland, Llewellyn School Principal Joe Galati was stevedoring cases of bottled water to racks in the hallways.

“I appreciate the efforts that the District has gone to making sure that all the Portland schools have water ready for kids to drink,” Galati said. “As we near the end of our school year, temperatures going into the 90s, and we definitely want to keep our kids hydrated.”

PPS Superintendent Carole Smith, along with most of the School Board members, held a special session before a community meeting on May 31 at Southeast Portland’s Creston Elementary School, to assuage the fears of parents and staff members.

“We are here for a community meeting, talking about the situation with lead testing of the water in our schools,” Smith told THE BEE. “We’re talking about our plan, going forward, for doing lead-testing in the schools. 

“The situation here at Creston showed an elevated level of lead at the fountain, which was remediated; but there were eight days between the time that it was found to be elevated and the time that it was fixed, and it was not shut off in that interval,” Smith continued. “People were not communicated with, including myself.

“Part of what we’re looking at here is our plan for understanding what happened, and how we ensure that this does not happen again,” said Smith.

On Friday, May 27, PPS obtained a reported 1 million bottles of water, and over the weekend distributed it to all the schools.

“We’re testing everything, system-wide, the summer,” Smith added. 

What PPS officials didn’t expect, on the afternoon of the community meeting, was the Willamette Week newspaper releasing information about a PPS study of lead in water, with measurements taken in 2001, 2002 and 2012.

THE BEE obtained a copy of that study, which was dated February 27, 2015. The report lists locations of sinks and drinking fountains; each school has an average of 130 testing areas. Very few of the entries were from tests done in 2012.

The report listed amounts of lead found – and most of the levels were very low; below a level of concern. Or, in some cases, the entry had a check-mark in a box for “Clear” of lead.

In Inner Southeast schools, the 2015 report shows:

  • Arleta Elementary – 8 Clear
  • Grout Elementary – 3 Clear
  • Duniway Elementary – 16 Clear
  • Hosford Middle School – 0 Clear
  • Meriwether Lewis Elementary – 3 Clear in the 2015 report; a test in late May showed no lead present at all in this Woodstock school’s water
  • Llewellyn Elementary – 11 Clear
  • Winterhaven Elementary – 9 Clear
  • Woodstock Elementary – 15 Clear

What remains uncertain is how, or if, the district repaired any drinking water fountains. Thus there was a level of concern, and sometimes acrimony was expressed by parents and teachers, during the community meeting.

During the Special Board Meeting, Smith announced that the District would bring in an “outside investigator” to look into why “staff actions that resulted in a delay of shutting down the water and a failure to report that to the superintendent and the community.”

PPS Board Member Steve Buel commented, “The Superintendent should not be involved in choosing the person or team to investigate water safety” – a remark that drew a round of applause from the audience.

At the start of the community meeting, during her introduction, Smith said the Board had approved system-wide testing for lead, based on discussions about the situation in Flint, Michigan.

One of a parade of parents and staff members asking questions was a mother, who identified herself as a Duniway Elementary School parent, who said, “We wrote to [the school district] expressing our concern, and got a letter back saying that there was a ‘backlog’ of more than 200 work orders to replace drinking water filters. But after that letter was received, soon after, the filters were replaced.

“The finding of lead could be the ‘canary in the coal mine’,” The Duniway parent speculated. “What can PPS do to guarantee adequate staff and funding so that there is clean water in every school, and parents don't have to perpetually fund raise to make sure their kids have safe drinking water?”

Portland Association of Teachers President Gwen Sullivan also stepped up to comment.

“Having [lead levels in water testing] protocols in place is news to me, because I didn't know about it, and I’ve been teaching since 1991,” Sullivan asserted.

“There is a question about the filters being changed annually, or sooner if they are plugged, this is inaccurate,” she said. “We’ve had plugged up filters, and have had difficulty getting the District to replace the plugged up filters.

“Being accurate about how often they’re changed is important,” Sullivan added.

From across the district, parents testified at the community meeting, and some asked about lead testing – and re-testing. Others asked if the school system would pay for kids’ medical bills resulting from any lead exposure.

On June 2, Smith put PPS Chief Operating Officer Tony Magliano and Environmental Manager Andy Fridley on paid leave as the District continued to investigate elevated levels of lead in school water.

According to media reports based on e-mail exchanges, Fridley appeared to oppose re-testing water quality in schools, and “did not provide accurate information” on the subject.

 “The Board and I know that mistakes were made, and I encourage this investigation into our systems and protocols, as well as a related personnel review,” said Smith who, in a presumably unrelated matter, has announced her plans to retire in the near future.

On June 6 and 7, the Multnomah County Health Department reported screening a total of 519 children and adults for any lead poisoning over a two day period.

The result: No child or adult tested at Creston School had any elevated blood lead levels.



Ron Rogers, Joan Rogers, Windermere
Advertisement
Sellwood Bridge, demolition
What was the westernmost span of the Sellwood Bridge is lowered onto a waiting barge. (Photo by David F. Ashton)

Piece by piece Old Sellwood Bridge cut down

By DAVID F. ASHTON
For THE BEE

Span by span, the 91-year-old Sellwood Bridge – Portland’s first fixed-span bridge across the Willamette River – is vanishing.

The process started in May, when the crew from Emmert International began rigging the bridge for systematic demolition.

The old bridge was built as a continuous span, not in sections. So the crew’s first job was to stiffen each span by welding on additional braces among the braces, so each section wouldn’t collapse while being removed.

While some residents expressed hope for a spectacular demolition, including movie-like explosions – which would have eliminated the possibility of recycling the materials – taking down the old structure was instead a slow and deliberate process.

After the new span braces were welded in place, the Emmert International supervisors directed welding of steel beams across the top of the reinforced sections, directly over the piers.

A mighty crane then lifted orange hydraulic machines atop the new beam platforms, one on either side of the span to be removed. A bundle of sturdy steel cables were attached to the four corners of that particular bridge span, and were threaded up into and through the hydraulic lowering system.

But it didn’t start smoothly. The first 250 feet long, 250 ton span, from the easternmost end of the bridge, didn’t go down either as easily or as quickly as planned.

On the morning of June 2, the crew of Emmert International was ready to lower the span about 60 feet down to a barge waiting below. The plan was to use high-temperature oxygen-blasting “thermic cutters” to sever the span’s beams and struts. However, a worker told THE BEE at the scene that they were having trouble with the thermic cutters which that they thought would cut through the old steel like a warm knife through butter.

As the day went on, the project stalled, and lowering the bridge was postponed until the following morning, when the tide would again back up in the Willamette River and lift the barge high enough to not bottom-out under its massive load.

The steel-cutting crew – who work for the bridge contractor, and not Emmert International – dumped the high-tech cutters, and reverted to using tried-and-trusted oxi-acetylene cutting torches to cut the section free.

Then, the digitally-controlled hydraulic machines lowered the first decommissioned bridge span like a slow-motion elevator, and gently set it upon stanchions on the waiting barge. 

On the next high tide, a tug pushed the barge to Schnitzer Steel, where the bridge section was recycled.

On June 17, the westernmost span of the bridge came down, and the remaining spans were to come down every other week thereafter.

Terry Emmert of Emmert International, in Clackamas, reflected, “The bridge has been here almost 100 years. It’s almost like the Berlin Wall. We’ve moved homes across the bridge for years.

“We moved two homes across it, at one time, which hung over on both sides. We’re proud to be part of the nearly 100 year history of the Sellwood Bridge, and now, we feel honored to take the bridge down, as it goes out of service.”

During the summer “in-water” work period, the remaining steel “stubs” will be stripped off the piers, and then the concrete piers will be demolished and the last of the Old Sellwood Bridge will be consigned to history.



Eastmoreland, mugging
Although the sidewalk along Bybee Boulevard, just west of S.E. 27th Avenue, is illuminated by streetlights, the parking area where the attempted abduction took place is poorly-lit. (Photo by David F. Ashton)

Attempted kidnap in Eastmoreland foiled by victim’s screams

By DAVID F. ASHTON
For THE BEE

Talking about the attempted abduction, after midnight on Wednesday, June 22, the female resident told reporters, “The hair on the back of your neck stands up, because it is that awful.”

It started as the 22-year-old woman was walking home from the 24-hour QFC Market in Westmoreland. She told police that she’d walked eastbound, over the Bybee Bridge, opposite the main entrance of the Eastmoreland Golf Course, when she was assaulted from behind about 12:15 a.m.

“An unknown man came up behind her, grabbed her in a bear hug and started pulling her towards the Eastmoreland Golf Course parking lot,” revealed Portland Police Spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson. “The victim told officers that the suspect continued to pull her towards the back of a vehicle and tried to push her inside.”

As the assailant opened the hatchback SUV, the victim told THE BEE’s media partner KOIN-6 News in an interview, “All the seats were out. There was this gray tarp, and some ropes or bungee cords inside; and that was when I really started freaking out.”

The woman said she struggled to get free and started screaming.

“I started screaming even louder, thinking, ‘Oh God no, please let me go, I’ll do anything’,” she continued. “‘I’m going to die tonight,’ that’s what I thought. And then I thought, ‘I can’t, I have way too much to live for’.” 

The woman admitted she didn’t know why the mugger changed his mind. “He just told me to run.”

She started running as fast as she could to the first house she saw – which turned out to be a neighbor of Portland Mayor Charlie Hales. After she pounded on the front door and rang the doorbell, the residents let her in, and called 9-1-1.

While not physically injured during the attack, the woman was emotionally shaken. “The first thing I did was wash my face and brush my teeth because I could taste his hand on my face,” she told reporters. “I just needed to get it off.”

Sgt. Simpson reported, “The suspect is reportedly a white, Hispanic, or mixed-race male in his 30s, oval-faced, no facial hair, approximately six feet tall, thick build, 190 to 200 pounds, thick fingers, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, possibly wearing blue jeans, and unknown style work boots.”

The victim described his vehicle as being a “newer SUV”, with a split-opening style tailgate – the glass pulling up, and the tailgate pulling down. Simpson added, “At this point, it is not clear if this incident is related to other stranger-to-stranger incidents that have recently been reported to police.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Anthony Merrill at 503/823-4033, Anthony.merrill@portlandoregon.gov – or, Detective Vince Cui at 503/823-9786, vince.cui@portlandoregon.gov.



Meyer Boys and Girls Club, Sellwood, Westmoreland
Standing outside the Meyer Memorial Boys & Girls Club for the last time, current member Duncan Pettit, and his dad Harold – one of the first members at the former Sellwood location – prepare to say goodbye to their favorite hangout. (Photo by David F. Ashton)

Westmoreland Boys and Girls Club closes forever

By DAVID F. ASHTON
For THE BEE

After the school year ended, there were no more children’s voices or activities at Westmoreland’s Meyer Memorial Boys & Girls Club. As previously announced, it was closed and sold.

At the club’s wake, held on June 16, many there did their best to hold back tears, and tried to appear politely cheerful.

Dad and son Harold and Duncan Pettit were among those there. Duncan didn’t have words to express himself, but his dad was full of emotion as he spoke with THE BEE.

“With us, you see one of the first kids through the door of the Boys Club at the old Sellwood firehouse [now SMILE Station] – me – and now, with my son, one of the last kids out of the door here, at the Meyer Memorial Club building,” Pettit said.

“Back then, and later in this building, the club was a place where kids could come and enjoy an afternoon, evening, or day, of recreation – and get opportunities with art and team sports.

“It was a great place to ‘hang out’,” Pettit said “I’m sure that hanging out here kept a lot of kids out of trouble. Even more, it gave us lots of opportunity, because the people that were working here really cared, and they showed it; that was the big attraction of the club.”

Looking back as an adult and a father, Pettit said that the club gave him a sense of belonging. “It was really the feeling of community. The sense of community that permeates through and lingers in this building is just tremendous.”

About his son becoming one of the last kids to exit the facility, Pettit said, “I am heartbroken by it. This neighborhood is losing that sense of community. There isn’t another program like this around here. There is still the Sellwood Community Center; but it is not on the scale of anything like this.

“I don’t know where kids will find the kind of programs – and caring people – that were here,” Pettit said.

Portland Boys & Girls Club Board of Directors member Ken O’Neil spoke with THE BEE about his experience with the organization.

“In 1986 they told me that I was the new President of the Boys & Girls Clubs – actually Boys Club at the time, located in the old Sellwood fire station. The organization’s President at the time had been transferred, and the title and job were given to me.

“One of the first things he said was, ‘We just bought this new building, we don’t have any money, good luck, and we’ll see you!” O’Neil recalled.

They did raise the money. “The Meyer Memorial Trust gave us $400,000 for the gymnasium,” O’Neil added. “This club is been so successful, and has helped so many kids – maybe 30,000 of them – over the last 30 years.”

That this club building and location was closing forever, home to what many considered one of the best gymnasiums in the city, made O’Neil “kind of sad. But the demographics of the area have changed so much. We have to go where there is a really big need.”

O’Neil asserted. “There is a lot of gentrification in this area and it’s all changed, and not nearly as many kids. It’s just another chapter that you go through as we try to help kids.”

The Director of the Meyer Memorial Boys & Girls Club, Natalie Whisler, said the club has been her “second home” for the last decade.

“I’ve been very involved with all the kids who have come in through our doors over the last ten years,” Whisler reminisced. “I have had the pleasure of watching so many of them growing up.”

The closing ceremony and reception was an emotional day for her and her staff, Whisler admitted. “It’s not easy saying goodbye to a place that has served the community for 24 years, and it’s been a huge part of the Sellwood-Westmoreland community more than 40 years.

“That’s why today we’re honoring a lot of our history, and the thousands of children that of come through the doors,” Whisler added. “We’re just really happy to see some of them back again, even if it is only for this one evening, to have some fun together.”

New programs to serve children in the immediate area haven’t been established, Whisler said.

Most of their kids are being sent to the 60-year-old Wattles Club, located in Lents, 4.6 miles to the east.

“We’re not sure what our programming will look like [for kids in this area] in the fall,” Whisler remarked. “We’d like to launch a smaller site, to keep serving kids in this area.”

For the present, the organization will continue to operate from its executive office near the east end of the Sellwood Bridge.



Deborah Kafoury, homeless shelter, Westmoreland, County Chair
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury says she’s keeping a campaign promise of housing the homeless. (Photo by David F. Ashton)

“Homeless shelter” concerns pack SMILE Station

By DAVID F. ASHTON
For THE BEE

The story about Multnomah County purchasing the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Portland Council building at 5120 SE Milwaukie Avenue was covered in a headline story in the May issue of THE BEE.

And although County Chair Deborah Kafoury had appeared at a Sellwood Moreland Improvement League (SMILE) meeting to explaining that the county had bought the building from St. Vincent de Paul in order to provide homeless services, including a woman-and-couples shelter – many area residents apparently were caught by surprise when anonymous posters appeared on telephone poles announcing the shelter plan in sensational terms, and urging attendance of a meeting in which Kafoury and affiliate officials would appear at the neighborhood association board meeting at the SMILE Station on June 15.

“Protect Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge & Preserve Our Community” was the top message of the full-sheet flyers, printed on canary yellow paper in red and black ink, which SMILE President Corrine Stefanick showed at the beginning of the meeting, saying, “I’m a little disappointed that the people who put it out did not identify themselves, and instead put my name on it, as if it came from the neighborhood association.

“But I am glad that so many people came out to this meeting,” Stefanick added.

Many agreed that the cumulative turnout of as many as 100 neighbors – for any topic – was the largest in recent memory.

Chair Deborah Kafoury began by introducing those who were sitting at the front table with her: Transition Projects Director of Housing Services Stacy Burke, A Home For Everyone Initiative Director Marc Jolin, Multnomah County District #1 Commissioner Jules Bailey, and Multnomah County Human Resources employee Dion Jordan who served as meeting facilitator.

“As your Multnomah County Chairwoman, and I’m very happy to be here tonight,” Kafoury said. “Tonight I’m here to talk with you again about the McLoughlin Resource Center we are planning on opening up in the next few months.

“Earlier, talking with the Board of Directors from SMILE back in April, we gave kind of a rough outline for what we’re looking at and what we were planning. But, we wanted to come back and talk to a broader group of community members tonight, and to have an opportunity to answer your questions.

Need given for the facility
“A Home for Everyone” Initiative Director Marc Jolin recalled that, according to a one-night census conducted in January 2015, at least 4,000 people are experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County on any given night. “A little more than half are entirely unsheltered,” he added.

“Many people of color are living outside, and are over-represented [in homelessness] more than they are in the population,” Jolin said. “African-Americans saw the biggest spike in the unsheltered. Over a two-year period, 48% are African-Americans, and many of those are women.”

A strategy for his initiative, Jolin continued, has been to expand the community shelter capacity by 650 beds. “The primary focus is on women. That is single women, and women in couples. Many of the women sleeping outside are with significant others, and will not sleep inside if they have to leave their men outside.”

Their shelter system is not intended for long-term stays, Jolin pointed out. “It is to give them a place to stay for a night, take a shower, and safely stay, while we help them get out of the shelter. Without resources, they will simply stay in a shelter, and it will become a warehousing kind of environment. Nobody wants that.”

Stacy Burke was next to speak – telling how their agency, “Transition Projects”, was created in 1969 as a homeless and housing service organization, currently operating six shelters in Multnomah County, including the controversial Sears Armory Emergency Shelter in Multnomah Village.

“It is a primary tenet of Transitional Projects to help people exit shelters,” Burke said. In the three longer-term shelters they manage, about 60% of the people exit those programs into stable or permanent housing.

Although the building’s address is on S.E. Milwaukie Avenue, the primary shelter entrance will be around the corner to the north, on S.E. Mitchell Street, Bork said.

How facility will operate
“[This facility] will provide shelter services at night,” explained Burke. “During the day, there will be opportunities for people to do a housing search, benefits acquisition, connect with health resources, look for employment, and get the support that they need to exit the shelter as quickly as possible.” Computer access will be provided.

Their “target population” is couples, Burke went on. “About 120 people, or 60 couples, will be sheltered in the space. We do allow companion animals and pets, to reduce the barriers that people face, when trying to access shelter and exit homelessness.”

Kafoury’s statement in the May issue of THE BEE, that the new facility would be to shelter about 100 women, raised several questions.

“I understand that this shelter is to help women – but you’re talking about couples. Does this mean female/female couples?” a neighbor quizzed. Burke replied, “Primarily, the people that are showing up are heterosexual couples, male/female.”

They don’t operate a blended male/female program, Burke said. “This shelter is for people who are presenting as couples. We know that women who are in relationships with men, in healthy relationships, will not come inside unless there is space for a couple. This shelter will not accept single men.”

Several of questions posed expressed concerns that those who were not fortunate enough to be sheltered for the evening, or friends who didn’t want to abide by the rules of the shelter, would loiter or “camp” on the sidewalk, property or in nearby Oaks Bottom.

Stacy Burke explained that the facility is staffed 24-hours a day, keeping an eye on the facility and its environs. And, unlike downtown “mission” shelters, “We operate on a reservation system, not a ‘lottery’ for who gets in that night. Through the [Pearl District located] Bud Clark Day Center, they reserve a bed. Then, they can stay until they don’t need that bed every night.

“Because the way our program is operated, we have not had the experience of people ‘camping’ outside of our facilities. There are not large congregations of people waiting for their friends to come and go,” Burke said.

Addressing potential camping in the Oaks Bottom parking lot, Kafoury interjected, “Having a well-known, experienced organization like Transition Projects and elected officials that are connecting with it, our names are on the line. We want you to call us and let us know if you are having issues.”

Security and protection issues
The possibility of increased crime and drug use in the area came up. One neighbor pointed out that, due to the low crime rate, as few as one police officer is assigned to the district on the graveyard shift.

“We call the police when we need police assistance,” Burke replied. “We have a great relationship with the Portland Police Bureau. We need to call them fairly infrequently, but we do call them when we need them.

Burke restated that they have staffing on a 24/7 basis and “walk rounds” at the facility and surrounding neighborhood. “We have a ‘zero tolerance drug use’ policy. It is not a requirement that they are clean and sober to come into the program; that is a barrier. But it IS a requirement that they do not use on-site, and do not bring illegal substances on-site.

“We cannot anticipate how somebody will show up at the program,” Borke continued. “But, we can treat them humanely, and keep them accountable to the rules we have in place for the shelter. This includes offering treatment. We try to help them find alternative ways to cope with mental health issues or other things going on.”

About fears of the homeless shelter bringing crime into the neighborhood, Marc Jolin said “The shelter will be an ally with you in tracking and addressing those kind of impacts. The shelter is not going to be the source of the problem, but instead part of the solution.”

The county plans a “Good Neighbor Agreement” with SMILE and local residents. “This is a specific agreement that we develop with neighborhood association that outlines the expectations of the operators, the guests that stay there, the business community, and the neighborhood association,” clarified Burke.

Answering another question, Burke said they are willing to create a mechanism to prioritize neighborhood homeless people to be sheltered. “Being able to refer those people in is something that we absolutely will do, and can do. We are programming that to make sure that that is a program option.”

Near the end of the meeting, a neighbor stood up and said, “I’m here because I was excited and pleased to know that we are going to have a shelter in this neighborhood. I’m happy that this will give us an opportunity to do things that we should all be grateful to do.”

“Max”, who said he manages the “Watershed PDX” building across the street from the new county facility, had the last word: “There is a possibility that things can go wrong. In general, our approach will be ‘Hi, welcome’; we will talk with them directly; we don’t want them hanging out. We will try to be forthright.

“I’d like to take a wait-and-see approach – and we’re just asking everyone to calm down!”



Crystal Springs Creek, culvert replacement

Inconvenience looms near fire station

By ERIC NORBERG
Editor, THE BEE

On Bybee Boulevard in front of Westmoreland’s Fire Station 20 – as well as on the north side, on S.E. Glenwood Avenue (as shown in the photograph) – the Portland Bureau of Environmental Service has begun the final culvert replacement project for Crystal Springs Creek.

The project benefits juvenile salmon and trout species, which rely on the creek for rearing and spawning.

Construction will last through late October, but most of the work will take place during the window of July 15 through August 31.

Auto, bike, and pedestrian traffic will be able to keep using Bybee Boulevard; but Glenwood Street will be closed at S.E. 23rd – as will one of the two off-ramps from southbound McLoughlin Boulevard at Bybee.





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