It’s been four years since Commissioner Chloe Eudaly rode into office on a pledge to expand the rights of renters and represent voices seldom heard in City Hall.
In her short time on the second floor, Eudaly said she’s done just that: she introduced rules that forced rent-raising landlords to pay for tenant’s moving fees and made it easier for people with criminal records to find housing. She created a legal defense for immigrants facing deportation and pushed for a code change to diminish the influence of neighborhood associations within City Hall. And she repeatedly rankled business interests and landlords along the way.
After four years on the inside, the former bookstore owner and activist said she will be leaving City Hall “relatively unscathed.”
“What has been discouraging and disappointment has been balanced out by all the incredible people that I have had the opportunity to meet and work with and all of the good work that we got done for the city,” said the commissioner in one of her last interviews as an elected official.
This November, Eudaly lost her seat to former political science professor and employee of the Office of Community and Civic Life Mingus Mapps, who handily beat the incumbent by 12 percentage points. Her term officially ends on Dec. 31.
But while the desires of the electorate have changed, Eudaly insists she has not.
“I came in [with] a very grassroots creative campaign, a very progressive platform, and pretty determined not to succumb to that environment, which I think breeds complacency and mediocrity,” she said. “I’m really leaving the same person I was when I walked in the doors.”
Or, almost the same.
“I’m more of a threat as an advocate than I was before.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Rebecca Ellis: How are you doing?
Chloe Eudaly: I’m doing good. Shutting down the office is time-consuming, and I’m looking forward to spending some time with my kid over the holidays and just thinking about what I’m going to do next.
Ellis: Do you see yourself coming back to city hall, just being on the other side?
Eudaly: Yeah, probably. I mean, I’m really interested in working in movement building and advocacy and policy-making on a national level. But I imagine it’s very likely that I could get involved in a local effort that would bring me back to city hall.
I don’t have anything specific in mind. I know that one of the things I loved about City Hall is the opportunity to work in so many different arenas. And that’s something that I’m looking for moving forward.
I am kind of a glorious generalist. It’s so hard for me to narrow my focus. There’s so many things that I’m interested in — housing and transportation, civic engagement, the arts, disability rights, climate.
I’ve often called being a commissioner “the dream job I never knew I wanted.” I just love the variety and the challenges and the opportunity to help my community. But there’s lots of things that you have to spend your time doing that aren’t particularly fulfilling or relevant to your interest areas. So I am looking forward to being able to focus.
Ellis: When it comes to advancing tenants’ rights, what are the things that you wanted to do that never got the chance to do in office?
Eudaly: Our next big housing policy effort was going to be around tenant opportunity to purchase, which is something that we’ve been working on the entire time that I’ve been in office.
It is a program that exists in maybe a few other American cities. It is something that will take a lot of effort and dedication with private industry and the community. And I am somewhat heartened that the idea of tenant opportunity to purchase is gaining traction around the country.
So I’m hopeful that it may be seen as a viable kind of emerging approach rather than, you know, another radical idea that Eudaly’s office came up with, which is often how we’re treated.
Ellis: What about the other bureaus you oversaw — Civic Life, PBOT — are there things there that you wanted to do but never got the chance to enact?
Eudaly: I still believe very strongly that we need code change when it comes to how the city conducts civic engagement.
The fact of the matter is neighborhood associations do great work in their neighborhoods. But for the purpose of civic engagement, because they do not represent the full diversity of our community, they are inadequate for the city to rely on for public input. And that is all that code change was about. I actually think the City of Portland is probably violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act because of how inequitable the system is that we helped create and that we perpetuate.
We will never serve underserved communities well unless we are hearing from them. And we won’t consistently hear from them if we have a code that says we don’t have to.
With PBOT, I know people like to criticize Vision Zero and think that it’s a failed program because we haven’t seen a dramatic reduction in traffic fatalities. And I’ve said this many times, but half of our fatalities are happening on ODOT facilities. We have no control over those roadways. Those are called orphan highways for a reason. It’s because they’ve been neglected for years or decades. They’re not nearly up to current standards of safety and they really need to be dealt with.
And we need to figure out the enforcement piece as well, Because that, I think — in addition to just poorly engineered, unsafe roadways — is our major challenge with safety and fatalities. How do we do enforcement in a way that’s safe and equitable and doesn’t further endanger members of our community?
Ellis: Are there frustrations you have with the way City Hall functions?
Eudaly: Oh yeah. Maybe just one or two.
So, you know, I passed the relocation ordinance in the first 30 days I was in office. We expected that to be the norm. We didn’t have a frame of reference for how long things usually take at City Hall. It turns out that was a real exception.
Everything takes exponentially longer than you think it will — and than it should.
So I do have an ongoing frustration with our procurement process and just how inefficient and time-consuming it is. I am very unhappy to be leaving office before I see the installation of radar cameras, for instance, that I secured funding for in the summer of 2019. Not only are they not installed, they have not been purchased yet. And that has been out of the hands of my bureau and therefore myself for many, many months.
Another example is, when we first shut down [for the pandemic], I just quickly jotted down my top 13 concerns. And one of my top concerns is how are we going to do the civic engagement that we need to do when we can’t meet in person?
And my solution was to contract with this digital civic engagement platform. It has incredible potential for the city, not just for civic engagement, but for participatory budgeting and asset and cultural mapping and organizing volunteers and connecting community members with other people who share their burning issues. It’s an incredible tool that we could have used years ago, totally independent of the crisis that we’re in, but it was part of my COVID emergency response.
I will not get to participate in the implementation of that platform because of how many months it took to get through procurement.
I don’t know what the issue is there. I don’t know if it’s a staff capacity issue. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve never had the bureau. I’ve never had the opportunity to really dig into what’s not working there.
But we can’t be nimble and respond to emerging issues, let alone real emergencies, if it takes us months upon months to get simple contracts through procurement.
Ellis: City Hall has been characterized a lot lately as a somewhat dysfunctional place with a lot of infighting and discord. You were on the inside — is that a fair reading?
I mean, yes, there are some key issues that we have intense disagreements over — renter’s rights, policing, residential info, code change. But I would guess that 95% of what we pass passes with four or five votes. There’s nothing wrong with disagreement. I think there’d be something wrong if we were constantly in accord.
And one of the things that I have struggled with the whole time that I’m there is I don’t trade votes. I don’t do favors. I don’t make behind the scene deals. I may walk into council with a well-formed position and on a given item knowing I’m going to vote one way or another, but the conversation needs to happen with public testimony and deliberation in public.
And it’s bothered me that sometimes that doesn’t happen on critical issues. Because I think we’re really selling the public short when we don’t give them all the information that we’re working with and kind of explain our thinking process rationale and give them the information they need to make an informed decision.
There’s another thing that I struggle with, and to be honest, this is a lifelong struggle for me. I didn’t inherit the Portland-nice gene. I’m not a passive-aggressive person. I’m just a straightforward kind of cards-on-the-table person. And like I said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with disagreement and debate. I think the public deserves to see that process. I think maneuvering and manipulating behind the scenes is much more problematic than a person who is, perhaps, blunt.
There are many instances, which I’m not going to go into, where my work has been undermined and sometimes it’s never been gotten to see the light of day because of things that went on behind the scenes with my other colleagues.
It’s a very weird place for someone like me to be in — not my natural environment. I’m glad that I didn’t ever fully adapt to it because the fact is it doesn’t have to be that way. Another city council and another city hall is possible. It is what we make of it. But as long as we accept the status quo and the many kinds of frustrations and inefficiencies and incompetencies that I’ve already talked about, it’s just not going to get better, and it could be a lot better.
I will say, I got along with the mayor fine — all the work that I did outside of my lane that was in his portfolio, I got his permission and I ultimately won his support. That’s not the way someone who is divisive or uncooperative operates. Commissioner [Nick] Fish was my closest friend and ally on council. Everyone got along with Dan [Saltzman] fine — I mean, he’s Dan. I’ve had some notable issues with Commissioner [Jo Ann] Hardesty, but we are friends and we worked together and supported each other on most things. And Commissioner [Amanda] Fritz was really kind of my biggest challenge on council. It’s hard to make sense of someone who professes progressive values but is really a deeply conservative person who’s resistant to change.
Ellis: After four years in City Hall, is there anything you’d like to see get more scrutiny or coverage?
Eudaly: One of the most interesting things to me, and I don’t know how this becomes a story really, but it’s the friction between the bureaucracy and the elected leaders. I was lucky with Civic Life and PBOT in particular to have teams that were ready to move at the same speed I was, but there are other bureaus where they just move at a glacial pace and they will wear you down and make you feel like change is not possible. I mean, the Bureau of Technology Services, oh my God… the technology situation at City Hall. I was never able to get funding for Civic Life to update our technology. We still use FileMaker pro.
I ran a tiny bookstore on a very modest budget, I had better technology and customer service than the city of Portland.
I didn’t come from an economically privileged background. I have been kind of low or modest income my entire life until I was elected to city council. As a small business owner, you’re often mortgaging tomorrow to just make it through today and not really planning for the future because you’re just trying to stay afloat. And I thought, well, that’s just a function of being lower-income or not having economic privilege or family wealth.
I was mortified to discover that the whole city is running itself like I did as an irresponsible 25-year-old.
How many decades did it take for us to realize we were going to have to come up with some funding to deal with maintaining our transportation? We have a billion-dollar backlog in maintenance, just maintenance. That’s crazy.
When I was assigned the Bureau of Development Services, they had spent their reserves down to zero during the recession and then did these really deep personnel cuts. And years later when I inherited the Bureau, the Bureau was still recovering from that. And so making sure we were building those reserves back up was a major focus of mine with that bureau. And just like, not running the city like a 25-year-old, not leaving all these problems for our kids and grandkids to deal with.
So yeah, it’s been a strange trip.