People cover their belongings with tarps next to Interstate 5 in Portland. (Lynne Terry/Oregon Capital Chronicle)
PORTLAND – With about six weeks until Gov. Tina Kotek’s secretive task force presents its plan to revitalize Portland at an annual gathering of business leaders, Kotek said Monday she expects to ask the Legislature to open the state’s pocketbooks to help the city.
Kotek’s comments came after the third meeting of the Portland Central City Task Force, a group she and Dan McMillan, president and CEO of Portland-based insurance company The Standard, convened in August to come up with a plan to save the struggling city. The group, which consists of dozens of state and local elected officials, business leaders and community advocates, has blocked reporters and the public from its meetings and provided few details about its work.
That trend continued Monday, when Kotek announced that the CEO of Union Pacific promised her that the railroad would do more to clean up trash and graffiti along its rights of way but couldn’t elaborate on what the company promised.
“We literally had the conversation at the end of last week,” she said. “I spoke with the CEO directly, and so we talked about graffiti, like some of their more active spaces where people are tagging, can we do something with that? How do we get those cleaned up? Can we put up murals? We’re talking about trash pickup. We will have a conversation about encouraging folks to get into the shelters that are being built as well. So it’s a range of things but honestly, it was just last week and we said we’re going to work on it. We’ll be back with details.”
Kotek said she also asked the Oregon Department of Transportation to look at what it can do to clean up trash and remove tents on state right-of-way in the city, adding that the agency’s budget is strained. The department relies on gas tax revenue, and that pool has shrunk in recent years with more fuel-efficient vehicles and less frequent commutes. The department announced last week that it will do less frequent sanding and snow removal this winter because of budget strains, and Kotek said she expects to ask the Legislature for more money for the department so it can keep up with maintenance.
Cleaning up Portland also requires more public restrooms and trash receptacles, Kotek said, adding that she sees a role for volunteers in helping keep the city clean.
Portland residents may have seen an increased police presence downtown in the last month, with Oregon State Police Superintendent Casey Codding saying six to 10 state troopers are patrolling downtown on any given day. Codding, who joined Kotek and McMillan at a press conference Monday, said the agency recently assigned a full-time detective to Portland and has other detectives working on drug enforcement to disrupt the fentanyl trade in Portland and throughout the state.
“In collaboration with (the Portland Police Bureau), we’ve asked troopers to come downtown and patrol,” Codding said. “They’re working on bicycles. They’re trying to be as present as possible and engage with the blatant drug use and any criminal activity that is occurring in their presence.”
Monday was the task force’s last scheduled in-person meeting, though subcommittees will continue to meet in private for the next few weeks. Kotek said the task force may meet virtually ahead of the Dec. 11 Oregon Business Summit, where she’ll present the plan to elected officials, reporters and any Oregonians who pay $250 for a ticket.
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