From The Editor

A first look at a new form of Portland city government
Here are the members of the current Portland City Charter Commission.
Here are the members of the current Portland City Charter Commission. (Courtesy City of Portland)

In this space, your editor has, on more than one occasion recently, expressed the view that Portland’s odd form of city government – one adopted more than a century ago in emulation of a small community in Texas, but without ever implementing the requirements that made it work there – no longer seems to function effectively here.

And we’ve advocated for a more workable and representative form of government for the Rose City.

We have not been alone in this. At least two of the five members of our current City Council have advocated for the same thing. And, although Portland has been required, over the years to periodically review its form of government and give voters a chance to change it – change has not happened up until now. This may finally be the time it does.

The City Charter Commission, in one of these periodic reviews, and after months of debate, testimony, and polling, has come up with the tentative proposal that, when finalized in a month, Portland’s voters are expected to vote on this November.

We present, below, the entire detailed press release that the Charter Commission issued on March 31, to introduce you to what the city government of Portland may be updated to, if the final measure – to be finalized in June – is passed by the voters this time around. And it’s not yet too late to have your say. Here’s the press release:


 This November, Portland voters will likely decide on foundational issues for the City of Portland and its residents: the city’s form of government and elections system.

The Portland Charter Commission reached a key milestone Thursday night, preliminarily agreeing on a package of reforms to advance to voters. All 20 Charter Commission members supported the package, which would recommend three major changes:

  • Allowing voters to rank candidates in order of their preference, using ranked choice voting
  • Four new geographic districts with three members elected to represent each district, expanding the city council to a total of 12 members
  • A city council that focuses on setting policy and a mayor elected citywide to run the city’s day-to-day operations, with the help of a professional city administrator 

“This proposal will make Portland’s government more accountable, transparent, and effective,” said Candace Avalos, a member of the Charter Commission who Co-Chaired the Form of Government Committee. “It positions us to get Portland moving in the right direction, and address our most pressing challenges – expanding affordable housing, mitigating gun violence, building climate resilience, and improving the city’s infrastructure.”

This proposal reflects more than a year of work by the Charter Commission, an independent body appointed once a decade to evaluate Portland’s structural document and recommend changes. Since December, 2020, the current commission – [the members of which] represent a range of ages, backgrounds, and neighborhoods – have conducted research and listened to community feedback.

More than 6,000 Portlanders have weighed in over the past year through public comment, surveys, and community discussions. Partnerships with community organizations have ensured participation from a diverse cross-section of the city, including people who typically lack access to government decision-making.

Charter Commissioners have heard Portlanders’ dissatisfaction with the status quo and say there is a groundswell of support to change Portland’s ineffective form of government. Portland is the last major city in the U.S. that still has a “commission” form of government.

Community members want a city government that represents every area of the city through an expanded city council, elected by geographical districts. 

“The Charter Commission proposal was truly created by – and for – Portlanders,” said Becca Uherbelau, a member of the Charter Commission who Chairs the Community Engagement Committee. “I’m proud that these recommendations are responsive to Portlanders’ calls for change.”

Following the [March 31st] preliminary vote, the City Attorney’s Office will draft the charter amendments. The Commission hopes to release the drafted amendments in early May. 

Community members will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed package of reforms during a series of public hearings in May. The Charter Commission will take its final vote in mid-June. At that point, at least 15 commissioners must say yes to send the proposal directly to Portland voters for the November 8, 2022, General Election. 

“Portlanders recognize we are at an inflection point – this is the moment for change,” said Debbie Kitchin, a Charter Commissioner who currently Co-Chairs the Commission. “A decade from now, Portlanders can look back on 2022 and feel proud that we made positive change happen.”

Go to the Charter Commission website – – for more information, including upcoming public hearings, our latest progress report, public comment forms, and email update signup.

Letters to the Editor
On March 25th, 2011, THE BEE peered over the bluff from the major slide area, S.E. 15th and Reedway, and saw that stabilizing techniques were clearly being applied to the saturated slope. Several trees had been removed as well, and the adjacent homeowner, who had originally hoped to remain in her house, had posted it for sale.
On March 25th, 2011, THE BEE peered over the bluff from the major slide area, S.E. 15th and Reedway, and saw that stabilizing techniques were clearly being applied to the saturated slope. Several trees had been removed as well, and the adjacent homeowner, who had originally hoped to remain in her house, had posted it for sale. (Photo by Eric Norberg)

Multi-story apartments on lip of Oaks Bottom?


Long-time residents of Sellwood and Westmoreland, and readers of THE BEE, may remember that in 2011 over 2 inches of rain fell [on the last day of] February, and consequently there were several landslides along the bluff overlooking Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. One slide endangered a house (see THE BEE, April 2011). The trail at Oaks Bottom, the Springwater Trail, and the feeder trail to the parking lot on Milwaukie Avenue (which gives bicycle commuters from Brooklyn, Westmoreland, and other locations access to the Springwater Trail) was closed for some time. The entire slope of the house at 1433 S.E. Reedway was slipping away, and [eventually] the house had to be moved.

Now the owner of the commercial property at 5515 S.E. Milwaukie, just a block north, at the corner of Ellis, has requested a zoning change on the property that would allow a 75-foot-high apartment building to be built on this landslide-prone slope. The city Hearing Officer has recommended approval, and now the petition goes to City Council for a vote. The petition, LU 21 -094203 CP ZC, is both a request for a change in the city’s Comprehensive Plan Map and a Zoning Map amendment to RM2 (Residential Multi-Dwelling 2).

Although the applicant and Hearing Officer concede that “a portion of this property poses a landslide risk”, and “The risk of a landslide poses an important and valid threat to safety, property, and human life”, “The Hearings Officer does not find that this risk is a barrier to approving the application…”  And why??  “Because the application does not propose any development...” at this time.

That is just kicking the can down the road until a developer brings forward a proposal to build an apartment building there. The city needs more housing, but large apartment buildings should not be built in environmentally-sensitive areas where landslides have already occurred. This steep escarpment is composed of unstable gravels and other sediments deposited by the historic Columbia /Willamette floods.

“Where landslides occurred in the past is key to where they'd occur in the future,'” explained Bill Burns, engineering geologist with Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (see THE BEE, May 2011). Climate change will increase the risk of landslides; extreme rain events are now occurring with greater frequency.

Increased development on this slope, despite geotechnical review and compliance with the current Stormwater Management Manual, will not decrease the likelihood of future landslides there. The roots from the trees that will be cut down will no longer be there to stabilize the slope, and the unstable soils will be disturbed by construction.

Friends of Oaks Bottom asks that citizens concerned about future landslides communicate their concern to City Council. The hearing before the Council to decide the matter is NOW scheduled for Wednesday, June 1, at 3 p.m. (NEW DATE AND TIME) at the request of the applicant. Letters to Council on this issue are welcome anytime before the hearing.

Marianne Nelson
Friends of Oaks Bottom Steering Committee
S.E. Rex Street

A housing development in Oregon City’s Newel Creek Canyon had similar landslide hazards, but  . was constructed. Soon after, in 2011, the development failed due to landslides. The residents had to be relocated.
A housing development in Oregon City’s Newel Creek Canyon had similar landslide hazards, but . was constructed. Soon after, in 2011, the development failed due to landslides. The residents had to be relocated. (Courtesy of The Oregon City News)


On February 11, the Sellwood Moreland Improvement League (SMILE) Board of Directors voted unanimously to send a letter to the city from its Land Use Committee opposing a request made to the City of Portland for an upzone of seven parcels of land on Milwaukie Avenue, between Ellis and Insley, in Westmoreland.

The most contentious of the parcels to be rezoned, located at 5515 S.E. Milwaukie, is in an environmentally sensitive area above the Oaks Bottom escarpment – an area prone to landslides.

SMILE’s objection to the upzoning was due to contradictions to stated purposes of the 2035 Land Use plan, in the main because the proposed upzoning at 5515 Milwaukie would cause: “Failure to provide safe housing” and the “Degradation of the Benefits of Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge”.

The Milwaukie Avenue property is just two blocks from a house at 1433 S.E. Reedway which, after heavy rains in February and March of 2011, began being undermined by a slide on the bluff above Oaks Bottom. Due to the landslide, Ruth Williams’ historic onetime farmhouse at 1433 S.E. Reedway was left with extensive damage and expensive restorative work. During restoration, a placard in front of the Williams home described the scope of the project to restore it: “We’ll move the house 12 feet toward the street, 8 feet to the South, and put the house on a new foundation.” Ruth Williams sold the home and moved the following year.

Subsequent to notifying the city of their reasons for opposing the upzoning, all members of the SMILE Land Use Committee testified in a Public Hearing held “virtually” on February 16. In addition to the nine oral testimonies, nearly sixty people sent in written testimony opposing the upzoning of the parcels, especially the one at 5515 S.E. Milwaukie. Among those opposed was Mike Houk, who has served on the Planning and Sustainability Commission for the past l1 years: “This is an inappropriate location for any housing, let alone the high-density housing that would result from the zoning change. The almost vertical slope is highly unstable, and has a long history of landslides.”

Houk described a similar housing project built (against the advice of local geologists) in in Oregon City in 2011: “The proposed upzoning of 5515 is reminiscent of a development that occurred in Oregon City’s Newel Creek Canyon. That site had similar landslide hazard areas . . . they were allowed to proceed with construction. Sadly, not long after construction, the development failed due to utterly predictable landslides. The residents had to be relocated.”

SMILE’s other objections to the upzoning of the seven properties have to do with the effects of high density urban zoning on areas without the urban amenities, transportation resources, or infrastructure necessary to support it. Yet despite the overwhelming testimony against the proposal, the Hearings Officer recommended approval.

As Mike Houk recently described the years of constant effort it took to save Oaks Bottom as a green space, he revealed the motto he lives by: “Endless pressure, Endlessly Applied”. That, he seems to suggest, is what it takes.

The City Council Meeting to consider the approval of the proposed zoning is NOW scheduled for Wednesday, June 1, at 3 p.m. (NEW DATE AND TIME). All interested parties are encouraged to attend.

Heidi Cropsey
S.E. Tenino Street

Update on Afghan refugees in Inner Southeast


The last time we reported on the progress of the Afghan refugee family sponsored by Moreland Presbyterian Church and Lutheran Community Services, we were awaiting the birth of baby Isha, and looking for a job for Noor. Isha is thriving, and Noor has started full time employment at Bob’s Red Mill. We have also, with help from Representative Earl Blumenauer’s office, tracked down the last of the documents necessary for obtaining a Special Immigrant Visa, enabling the family to remain in the US.

We “adopted” another family in February: Obaid and wife, sister, and two young sons, who are now living near the church.

Both families are extremely grateful to their new neighbors.  We have been able to settle in both of these families in large part due to the many volunteers in the Sellwood-Westmoreland community who have reached out to help. These include dozens of people who worked to fix up the rental house, furnish both homes, provide transportation,  as well as bicycle repair, legal services, meals, and friendship. Some are church members, but many are not. Thanks to Kevin, Dani, Annemarie, and her crew, Tim, Ann, Will, Charlie, Henry, Brett, and crew from Community Pilgrim Church, Joe, and others. Thanks also to the people who have provided meals, diapers, and clothing to the families – too many to mention, but you know who you are.

We are indebted to the Buy Nothing Eastmoreland-Woodstock-Errol Heights group for furnishings and countless miscellaneous items. We want especially to thank the businesses that have contributed to our effort – Sherwin Williams, Max Effort LLC Flooring, Sellwood Community House, Bob’s Red Mill, and Roots and Wings Pre-School

We are continuing to provide major financial and personal assistance to these two families, especially as their children enter school age, and can always use more volunteers and donors. Please contact the church office at –, if you are interested in more information.

Rebecca Mowe

One library service not expanded


The article in April’s BEE, “Southeast Multnomah County Library branches expand survices”, failed to mention that the library has throttled Interlibrary Loan services (ILL) services by more than half. ILL is critical to the library's core mission of providing reading material to patrons. No improvement is in sight.

Before COVID, ILL services gave us access to virtually any book or article published in the U.S. before the current year.  The system accepted five active requests at a time.

In the spring of 2020, the library's ILL services were shut down entirely.  They remained shut long after libraries in surrounding counties and around the country had resumed ILL ordering. After I protested repeatedly to the Library's director, Vailey Oehlke, and to the County Commissioners, Ms. Oehlke promised that the ILL service would be "resumed" by the end of January, 2022. 

In fact, the first orders were finally accepted in mid-February. The County Chair’s office forwarded a further letter from the Library’s Senior Policy Advisor [which] claimed that “pausing or delaying other services allows library staff to focus on providing core services to support our priorities”.

None of these replies admitted that instead of five requests, patrons now may only make two. Two books on order at a time may seem reasonable, but this applies to short articles as well. Each of these takes at least several days to arrive, slowing down everyone's research to a crawl.

Surely, the library's "priorities" should include a full resumption of an essential service that connects readers and researchers to the materials they need for their work. 

Margaret DeLacy, President
N.W. Independent Scholars Assn.
S.E. 30th Avenue

Famous Sellwood intersection in funding effort


Is it garage sale season already?! Absolutely! And the “Share-It Square” community would like to invite our Inner Southeast neighbors and BEE readers to the annual fundraising yard sale on Saturday, April 30th from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Share-It Square is located at 9th and Sherret,t and is the first “intersection repair” in the world, leading the way for the numerous similar community crossroads throughout Portland and beyond. The Square acts as a gathering point, allowing neighbors to commune and celebrate and exist together! 

All proceeds from this sale serve to fund the numerous community events hosted by the Share-It Square committee of volunteers. Each year, since the inaugural painting in 1996, the most anticipated event is Paint Day – a day when community members big and small mobilize to create an amazing street painting.

Come to the sale and scoop up bargains, but promise to come back to join us in painting the Square on June 4th!

Katie Royce
Share-It Square Logistics Committee

Enjoyed history article, but…


In Dana Beck’s excellent article regarding The Post Office [April BEE], I noticed two small points: The City of Portland is not “just up the river” from Sellwood. It is down the river [since the Willamette runs northward]. And to say, “The first woman to hold the position of Postmistress in the Oregon Territory in 1894” is misleading. Oregon became a state in 1859. The Oregon Territory existed between 1848 and 1859.

Chuck Martin

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dana Beck responded, “I’m going to have to make sure I run my article by Chuck next time. He’s good at catching my mistakes. Good job Chuck!”

Wishes for no photo


In the April BEE, you included a story entitled, “Man brandishing a weapon arrested in Sellwood”. The story goes on to describe the arrest of a man who was noted as having a mental health crisis, and then included a picture of the man. What benefit can there be in publishing a picture of this man who was described as being disturbed and in distress and who was surely having one of the worst days of his life?  He was already in custody and was going to be sent to treatment. Showing a photo seems unnecessarily stigmatizing to him and his family. I understand that people want to know about crime in our neighborhood, but a little kindness would benefit us all.

Celene Okeson

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ms. Okeson has overlooked a potential benefit to the man in question, who was brandishing what looked like a pistol. She may have too optimistic an opinion of the state of mental treatment in Oregon these days; we understand he has had other such “worst days of his life” in Sellwood before, and yet is still on the street. The photo identifying him might actually help him the next time he does this, by reminding witnesses that this particular man is prone to mental disturbances, and can act in this way, but has not actually used a weapon against others – thus possibly averting a violent response from bystanders.

                                NOTE TO READERS

Our newer website – – in April was demonstrating a new web design being considered by our parent company, Pamplin Media. Unfortunately, there was little current BEE news displayed. If that website again ever fails to meet your expectations, a reminder that you will still be able to read all current BEE news on our older website,

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