Commissioner Amanda Fritz said the site, which currently belongs to the Oregon Department of Transportation, is at present the city’s best option to permanently house the Right 2 Dream Too organized homeless camp.
The vote was unanimous with Mayor Charlie Hales absent. He left the meeting shortly before the vote to travel to a climate change summit hosted by Pope Francis at the Vatican.
The city and ODOT have agreed on a selling price: $254,044. Fritz said the mayor could still decide against the purchase, if an environmental review reveals the site is hazardous or will be costly to clean up.
During the hearing before the vote, Hales said he is considering several uses for the site, and asked people testifying to refrain from discussing the potential for a homeless rest area there.
“The decision to purchase doesn’t automatically decide that Right 2 Dream Too will go there,” Hales said.
Hales said the land is among five ODOT surplus properties in the eastern part of the city that are up for sale this year. Hales wants any land purchased by the city to go toward parks, parking and development projects.
Many of the people who showed up to testify responded with skepticism to the mayor’s request they remain silent on the potential use of the land.
“This is the first time I’ve ever heard we’re going to buy a piece of property and we haven’t theoretically had a use of the property in mind,” said Don Gardiner, the president of Southeast Uplift, a neighborhood coalition. “If there is a plan to buy all of these properties, we would like to see a plan for what to do with them.”
The Central Eastside Industrial Council opposes the city’s acquisition of the land.
“We think it is premature and not responsible when you haven’t determined the use of it,” said Debbie Kitchin, the council’s president. “You haven’t really been very open about what your decision making is, and we haven’t had a legitimate planning process about the purposes for this property.”
“We have toilets, we have garbage disposal. We have been doing a great job for five years. Our neighbors like us,” said Trilliam Shannon, a board member of Right 2 Dream Too. “I’d like people to open their hearts and minds to the fact that people need a safe place to rest. Getting a spot on the inner southeast side is very different from what happened to Dignity Village. They got moved far out, and I think that is what a lot of people would like to see. That does not serve the needs of people.”
After the hearing, Fritz defended the decision to postpone public testimony on the use of the site by Right 2 Dream Too.
She said that several critical elements of a deal to move the camp are not yet in place, including the assessment of the environmental safety of the site, an agreement to move on the part of Right 2 Dream’s board and a good neighbor agreement with the Central Eastside Industrial Council.
“We really need to have all the pieces in place,” she said, “and then, bring that to council and say this is the whole package, and what does the community think about that?”
Fritz said that while she believes that the city could legally offer a lease to Right 2 Dream Too on the site without needing the approval of the council, she and Hales have committed to holding a public hearing and putting the issue to a vote, perhaps in the late summer or early fall.
“The challenge is the weather. At some point it will start raining again, and it will certainly get cold,” she said. “I would like them to be settled in a place that has better facilities before the rainy season.”