Portland plans to swiftly restore lighting in parks after criticism

By Alex Zielinski (OPB)
March 29, 2023 8:36 p.m.
This photo supplied by Portland Parks and Recreation shows an aging lamppost set for removal in Woodstock Park.

This photo supplied by Portland Parks and Recreation shows an aging lamppost set for removal in Woodstock Park.

Portland Parks and Recreation

After public outcry, Portland is expediting a plan to replace hundreds of lampposts recently removed from 12 city parks.


City Commissioner Dan Ryan, who oversees Portland Parks and Recreation, will bring an emergency ordinance to council April 5 that will allow parks staff to purchase replacements for 243 deteriorating lampposts within six months.

This announcement comes a month after Ryan signed off on a plan to replace the aging lampposts in 16 months, at the earliest. According to the city, these posts have structural issues that put the public at risk. In a Tuesday press release, Ryan said he moved to accelerate the process after hearing safety concerns from members of the public about the newly darkened parks.

“I understand the importance of lighting in our parks and am committed to finding a solution to address the public’s valid concerns,” Ryan said.


The funds to speed up the replacement process come from $2 million of Metro’s regional parks and nature bond passed in 2019 and $2 million in federal dollars. The funding allows the city to purchase the needed lampposts upfront without having to find additional money to finalize the project in the future. The entire project will cost $15 million to complete.

Parks staff have already removed lampposts from Irving Park, Colonel Summers Park, Sellwood Park and Sellwood Riverfront Park. That leaves those parks with a total of 18 posts out of an original 134. These four parks will be the first to receive new posts once they’ve been purchased. Parks staff say the city “will explore” installing temporary lighting in the parks in the interim.

Lamp posts at the eight other affected parks won’t be removed and replaced until after the first four parks have their lighting restored. If Council approves Ryan’s ordinance, all lamp posts will be purchased no later than Oct. 5. It’s not clear how long it will take to install the new lighting.

Some city lampposts are more than 100 years old, and all 243 poised for removal pose serious hazards to the public, according to parks officials. During recent city budget talks, parks staff said this is just one example of how the public is affected by Portland Parks and Recreation’s $600 million maintenance backlog.

Portland Parks and Recreation finance manager Claudio Campuzano, who spoke at a recent City Council budget hearing, said the lack of adequate maintenance funding “is leading to excessive risk, assets unexpectedly being closed for life safety, and steadily degrading conditions.”

These kinds of risks are why 50 different parks facilities are currently shuttered, including pools, playgrounds and public restrooms. According to parks, only 18% of the parks’ facilities are in good condition.

Portland Parks and Recreation has been plagued with a growing maintenance backlog for years. In 2020, voters approved a five-year parks levy — bringing in an estimated $48 million to the bureau each year — in hopes of addressing those unmet costs, but staff say it hasn’t gone far enough to reverse course. That’s partially because the levy is restricted to covering bureau operating costs, not maintenance needs.

The city is currently lobbying for legislation that would create a permanent funding stream to directly address the maintenance backlog. A bill introduced by Rep. Travis Nelson, D-North Portland, would allow Oregon cities to create park districts — a special taxing district approved by voters that could establish permanent parks funding — and allow city commissioners to operate as the district board. Unlike the current parks levy, a taxing district could cover maintenance costs. Nelson’s legislation, House Bill 3515, is scheduled for its first hearing Thursday.


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