Although our coverage of Eastmoreland has in recent months focused on the controversial plan to create an Historic District in part of the neighborhood, the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association’s Board is not oblivious to other issues in Inner Southeast, and on March 5 we received a copy of a three-page letter ENA had just sent to Mayor Wheeler about the suggestion that the Portland Parks Bureau might meet a budget reduction mandate by, among other things, closing the historic Community Centers in Woodstock and in Sellwood.
Since the letter is a bit long to present as a “Letter to the Editor”, we reproduce it here in its entirety. The Woodstock and Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhoods were surprised and pleased to have the vigorous defense of these two Centers by Eastmoreland. Here’s the letter:
Mayor Ted Wheeler
Office of the Mayor
1221 SW 4th Ave, Room 340
Portland, OR 97204
March 5, 2018
Dear Mayor Wheeler:
We are writing to voice our strong objection to the budget proposal to close the Woodstock Community Center and the Sellwood Community Center. In response to your direction to Portland bureaus to reduce their current budgets by 5% for fiscal year 2018-2019, Portland Parks and Recreation has proposed cutting these vital community centers in September of 2018.
Sellwood CC provides affordable, local preschool and Pre-Kindergarten classes designed to give children exposure to the skills they will need in elementary school. In summer, Sellwood CC provides camp experiences to over 1,100 preschoolers and 470 elementary schoolers, with all classes full and 15-75 children on the waiting list each week. These programs are half the cost of private programs and accommodate working parents’ schedules. Over 112 middle and high schoolers are provided a secure and safe place to enjoy fitness activities, music lessons, and self-improvement classes after school. A least 100 elementary school students from Duniway and Llewellyn Elementary Schools bus directly to the affordable after-school program where 45 children are now on the waiting list. There are no equivalent facilities available. Parents of these children would be forced into private after-school programs where costs are double and waiting lists are long.
Sellwood/Moreland recently lost its Boys and Girls Club facility for the construction of apartments. The community center provides activity space not only for an increasing population of adults, but remains the only safe and secure place for middle and high school students to meet with their peers after school for educational or athletic experiences. The center hosts space for AA, Al Anon, home school groups, seniors clubs, and community meetings. The data reveals that Sellwood Community Center is a vital community asset that should never be lost.
Woodstock Community Center, for decades the heart of the Woodstock community, provides affordable education and care for 156 preschoolers from September to June at an affordable $140-$187 per month, followed by a summer camp of enrichment activities that prepares them for their elementary school education. The center serves children from Woodstock, Duniway, and Lewis Elementary Schools. The parents of these children would be forced to seek similar educational experiences for their children further afield and at much higher prices.
The senior population in SE Portland is growing rapidly. We need local community centers for old and young. Many do not drive and need facilities within walking distance of their homes and transit. Woodstock CC focuses on seniors through art, music, aerobic exercise, calligraphy, clock repair, genealogy, Al Anon, memoir writing, and fitness classes, all aimed at promoting mental and physical health – a place to gather, exercise their bodies and minds, and support each other thru their community. The adult classes are open to middle and high school students facilitating engagement with young people and drawing them into a more vibrant life. Clearly, closing either of these community centers will deny scores of children and seniors the educational programs and experiences that now enhance their lives.
As the City proceeds to increase population size and density, the needs of its citizens -- including children and seniors of SE Portland -- will go unmet. Witness the growing number of infill apartment blocks, many intended to house low- and modest-income tenants. These valuable and well-utilized community facilities will be lost.
Mt. Scott Community Center, posed by PP&R as the alternative facility, is completely unrealistic. Transit access is extremely limited, and it is inaccessible by walking or bicycle for children in the neighborhoods proposed to be deprived of facilities: Reed, Woodstock, Brentwood-Darlington Eastmoreland, Sellwood/Moreland, and Ardenwald-Johnson Creek among others. Mt. Scott CC is already at capacity. It is not a valid or viable alternative.
Reasons for the Closures
PP&R justified closing both Woodstock and Sellwood Community Centers stating that there are fewer people of color and fewer people living below the poverty level in SE Portland than elsewhere in the city. This is not only a misrepresentation, but simplistic logic. It amounts to overt discrimination based on race and income against children, seniors, and the mixed income neighborhoods that sustain the City and PP&R with their tax dollars and civic engagement. Is it fair or legal to deny children and seniors services based on race or financial status?
We must ask: what happened to the generous bonding support provided in recent years specifically for improvements in local PP&R facilities? We understand that consultant and planning staff time in the hundreds of thousands of dollars are being used to further study closures -- instead of providing needed programs and services and maintaining facilities.
No representative from SE Portland was invited to participate in PP&R’s Budgetary Advisory Committee. We strongly object to the lack of representation on such an important committee that has proposed permanent damage to SE Portland’s quality of life. Convening a Budgetary Advisory Committee with representatives from all of Portland’s areas might yield as yet undiscovered solutions to your budgetary problems that do not involve denying our neighborhoods especially children and seniors a safe and secure place where they can learn and prosper.
Therefore, we urge you to reconvene PP&R’s Budgetary Advisory Committee including representatives of SE Portland. Focus on alternative ways of addressing budget shortfalls not including closure of necessary and valued community centers. Such alternatives are listed below:
- Find ways to improve operating overhead costs, including local improvement district funding
- Consider the long-term needs of neighborhoods for indoor recreation and meeting space.
- Increase charges for community center services based on ability to pay.
- Seek volunteers, including facility users, to staff and maintain facilities and grounds.
- Lease portions of these facilities for home schooling, dance organizations, and community clubs at affordable prices.
- Establish Boys and Girls Clubs, located at the community centers, to replace the building demolished for more residential infill.
- Encourage corporate sponsor support in exchange for receiving naming rights for community centers.
Community Center Building Directors could establish local groups like Friends of Woodstock Community Center, made up of community members willing to volunteer their time and resources.
Citizens care deeply about their community centers. Portland needs secure, vibrant, and welcoming indoor spaces in every community, as well as the outdoor spaces PP&R provides. Local community centers are imperative to the health of each and every neighborhood. Closing Woodstock and Sellwood Community Centers is wasteful and shortsighted. Let’s start with innovative thinking to solve the financial problems associated with these community centers.
Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association Board of Directors
Rod Merrick, President
Kristiana Nelson, Vice President
Heidi Levy, Treasurer
George Bengston, Secretary
cc: Commissioner Amanda Fritz
There have already been warm expressions of appreciation from both the Woodstock Neighborhood Association and the Sellwood Moreland Improvement League (SMILE) neighborhood associations to this passionate letter to the city from the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association Board. The City Council expects Sellwood-Westmoreland and Woodstock to defend their Community Centers; this defense from an unexpected quarter should carry more weight.
About that Arts Tax bill you got in the mail
While we are on the subject of the antics of the City of Portland involving revenue, we should advise you that this bill – sent to every household in the city, we are told by the City of Portland Revenue Division – although it sounds like a dunning letter, was sent without any checking to see if you had already paid it online (which the city “urges you to do”).
We ourselves had already done so early this year, and so we called to see if our payment had been misplaced. The courteous lady quickly looked us up and confirmed that we had paid it. We asked why the city does not cross-check, and only send the bills to those who have not yet paid it, then? It would save the city a lot of postage costs and a modicum of ill will from those who have already paid it – and especially those who had paid it, had forgotten and then paid it again, and later realized their mistake. She suggested that billing everyone in the city is easier.
We ourselves, who had read the Arts Tax measure when it was first proposed in 2012, learned that the schools’ art programs were only one of many recipients of this regressive little city tax, and voted no. But, when it passed, we’ve paid it every year. In fact, we are pretty sure we’ve paid it twice at least two times in the past six years – before we caught on to this practice of dunning everybody in the city with a bill whether they’d paid it or not.
Haven’t paid it this year? Pay it now – until that happy day when it is rescinded.
But if you sort of remember having paid it online already, please call the Revenue Division of the city and find out – before you send along another $35-per-adult payment to a city which will happily cash your check and keep the money, whether you did or not.