Portland City Council candidate Rene Gonzalez answers OPB’s questions

By OPB staff (OPB)
May 9, 2022 9 a.m.

OPB asked all the candidates seeking a seat on Portland City Council to answer some questions about the issues. Below are answers from Rene Gonzalez, a candidate for position 3, currently held by Commission Jo Ann Hardesty. These answers have not been edited.

Brief biography:

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Occupation: Technology business owner

Occupational Background: Business Lawyer

Educational Background: Willamette University, bachelor’s degree; Law Degree, cum laude

Prior Government Experience: First time candidate

Civic Leadership Experience: President, UPDX (Largest soccer club in Oregon); Board Member The Library Foundation and Portland Children’s Museum; Founder, ED 300 (40,000 member parent group).

Why are you running for City Council? What relevant experience do you have?

I don’t believe in politics as usual in times of crisis. I’m not running to get a job; I already have one. I’m running because Portland is facing a historic threat to its livability – out of control homelessness, skyrocketing crime, and a politics devoted to special interests instead of the city and its residents.

My history of leadership includes leading a bipartisan effort to organize parents statewide and help safely reopen schools, so our kids get the education and life they deserve. I have a proven track record of bringing people of diverse interests and backgrounds together around a common issue, and galvanizing coalitions to achieve real results.

My number one priority is stabilizing the city’s livability by directly confronting the challenges of homelessness and crime. Then we need to build a post-pandemic vision for the city, focused on our unique assets and opportunities, which restores the city’s promise.

What bureaus do you want to run? Why do you think you’re the person to oversee them?

As a founder of UPDX, Oregon’s largest soccer club, I have always had a love for our parks and multi-use paths that make our city a beautiful and unique place to live. Aside from parks, I have strong executive leadership experience in pulling deals together and making projects pencil. To that end, development would also be a good fit. Streamlining the permitting process and ensuring transparency and fairness in the application process are key goals in the immediate term. Adding to our stock of housing will be key to addressing affordable housing in the medium term. Beyond that, in the long term, we need to make Portland an attractive place to live and invest in again.

Finally, housing is a pressing issue that I believe requires urgent leadership. Pulling deals together for space, including emergency shelters and RV parking, concentrating addiction and mental health services, and working with Metro and the County to ensure successful delivery of services are key elements I would look to address out of the gate. Also, I would certainly look forward to engaging with the many people already working to address the needs of our most vulnerable residents. Listening the being responsive are traits I would look to bring when overseeing any bureau.

Are there any bureaus you do not want?

I am happy to serve wherever needed and welcome any assignment that helps Portland recover.

What is one concrete action you would take immediately upon entering office to reduce the number of people living on the street?

Enforce existing laws on illegally parked RVs around the city. This is something we could be doing right now, but which Jo Ann Hardesty has elected not to enforce. They anchor many unsanctioned camps and are also environmental disasters leaking dangerous chemicals and biohazard fluids into our local streets and parks. More than that, they represent a breach in the social contract: if anyone else parks illegally, we get a ticket or a tow. We need to enforce the law equally for all, and recognize everyone has a right to our public spaces, parks, and pathways.

If the city were to increase shelter supply, would you support requiring people living outside to move into shelters?

It has been illegal since 1981 in the City of Portland to sleep in an unsanctioned camp. We need to massively accelerate the building of shelter and safe sleeping options where we can also concentrate addiction, mental health, and other services. We also need to establish a functioning acute detox center as soon as possible in the city, which addresses who are at the threshold between seeking treatment and criminal behavior. Our approach must be compassionate, but firm. We need to clean up our city, and if that means requiring people to move while also offering addiction and mental health services, we should do just that. Our economic and cultural recovery as a city may literally depend upon it.

The charter commission is currently in the process of reviewing and making recommendations to Portland’s charter. Do you support changing the form of government? Why or why not? What specific changes would you support or recommend?

Our form of government is over 100 years old and badly needs reform. Under the current system, each commissioner has both legislative and executive responsibilities but not every commissioner has legislative or executive experience. This makes the management of multi million dollar budgets by folks who’ve never had to make payroll or meet clearly defined goals and deadlines fundamentally problematic. We need professional staff led by a city manager to properly oversee the bureaus and budgets that make our city run and deliver much needed services to our most vulnerable residents.

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We also need to address the city-wide election of commissioners. No one knows who to call when they have an issue, and commissioners don’t know where their core geographic constituencies actually lie. This creates an unresponsive and undemocratic system dominated by and beholden to special interests. By creating geographic districts for each commissioner to represent, we return to principles of local representation and government responsiveness badly needed moving forward as we meet the challenges currently facing the city.

Name a policy the council adopted in the last four years that you disagreed with. Why did you feel that way? What would you have done differently?

Our policy approach to the unsheltered has been driven by Housing First ideology to disastrous ends. We may never have enough permanent housing to meet the needs of the unsheltered. Pursuing this policy, in the midst of the pandemic no less, has directly contributed to the proliferation of unsanctioned camps across the city, and exacerbated the deterioration of living conditions for those living in and around them. It reflects an approach to policymaking deeply driven by ideological commitments – one that often continues to insist there is no crisis, that this is what systemic change looks like, and that the emperor is in fact fully clothed.

I do not share the view that permanent housing investment should crowd out shelter investment. The facts are clear: nearly 80% of the unsheltered suffer from at least one disability (addiction 46%; mental illness 41%; both: 26%).

Path Going forward. We need to massively accelerate the building of shelter and safe sleeping options where we can also concentrate addiction, mental health, and other services. We also need to establish a functioning acute detox center as soon as possible in the city, which addresses who are at the threshold between seeking treatment and criminal behavior.

Racial justice protesters and advocates have called for years to dramatically reform the Portland police bureau. Do you believe changes need to be made to the police? If so, what are they?

We have passed over 20 measures at the statewide level aimed at police accountability.

We need to ensure these measures are effective when implemented, and diligently work to address critical gaps and shortcomings that might emerge along the way. We must also continue rigorous community oversight of police, but end “defund the police culture” that makes hiring and retaining good officers unnecessarily difficult.

I often hear my opponent say: “these systems weren’t working.” The truth is that they were working, just not perfectly. One of the fundamental pillars of democracy is faith in our institutions - and they are never perfect. They are always works in progress - always aspiring to grow and evolve in the right ways. I refuse to give up on them or, more importantly, the people working to inside them to make things better. We need to restore public confidence in our law enforcement system again while also taking seriously the continued work of police accountability and rigorous public oversight. We can do both, and we must, if we are to restore Portland.

Poll after polls shows the electorate is furious with city leaders for a wide variety of issues - trash, homelessness, rising crime. Which of the many problems Portland faces do you see as a priority for your first term in office?

Out of control homelessness, skyrocketing crime, and politics devoted to special interests instead of the city and its residents are the biggest problems we are facing today.

My number one priority is stabilizing the city’s livability by directly confronting the challenges of homelessness and crime. Then we need to build a post-pandemic vision for the city, focused on our unique assets and opportunities, which restores the city’s promise.

Right away, we need to:

• Enforcement of existing laws on unsanctioned camping and RV parking.

• Restore our public spaces, including parks and sidewalks, so that everyone can use them again.

• Establish a functioning acute detox center for the city.

• Advocate for effective statewide mental health and addiction services.

• Massively accelerate building of shelter and safe sleeping options.

• Expand stock of affordable housing by streamlining the permitting process and assuring transparency and fairness.

We also need to make space for a vision for the city post-pandemic. We have had 10 years of social and economic change compressed into two years. This makes how we move forward both a profound challenge and a great opportunity - especially with remote work the new norm in many fields. If we get livability right and lean into the fundamentals of what makes Portland a great place to live: our natural resources, our parks and waterways, and our neighborhoods and local businesses, we can restore Portland’s promise.

What do you think the city could do to speed up the construction of affordable housing?

Prioritize emergency shelter over long-term permanent housing. Also, in the medium term, we must streamline the permitting process to make it more efficient and transparent, so that projects pencil for those looking to invest in Portland again. Our stock of housing is low, but so are the permits we have on file to add to that stock. We need to take this problem seriously and address the fact that public-private partnership will play a significant role in addressing the cost of housing and livability in Portland.

What can be done to make Portland’s roads safer?

We can clear unsanctioned camps close to high-traffic thoroughfares immediately. We can also immediately enforce existing laws prohibiting illegally parked RVs. More than that, we can clean up our city and return to economic life in ways that allow renewed investment in our traffic infrastructure and our multi-use pathways.

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