PORTLAND — In a first meeting of its kind for City Hall, Mayor Michael Brennan sat down with about two dozen residents July 11 and shared a free-flowing discussion of topics ranging from Congress Square Plaza to the cost of city trash bags.
The informal meeting, dubbed “Meet the Mayor,” was intended “to simply provide an opportunity for people to come in and have a dialogue,” Brennan said.
After brief remarks about some of the city’s major projects, the mayor– who was later joined by City Councilors Jill Duson and Ed Suslovic – opened up the floor to the audience.
Parkside resident Joan Grant used the forum to criticize the city’s proposed sale of portions of Congress Square Plaza.
Plans call for selling about two-thirds of the plaza to the owners of the neighboring Eastland Park Hotel, which is being renovated and is scheduled to reopen in December as the Westin Portland Harborview. The hotel owners hope to use the plaza space to build a center for meetings and events.
But Grant said the city is rushing the sale, now in negotiations, and is more concerned about the needs of the hotel owners than those of residents.
“The city’s going about this backwards,” she said. “We need to start with asking what’s good for the city and the public.”
Brennan noted that a task force has been developing ideas for redesigning the plaza since 2008, and that there will be opportunity for further public input on the plans as they are vetted by the city. He also said the proposed event center would benefit local neighborhoods and their residents.
“One of the big advantages (of the event center) is bringing 400 or 500 people to downtown Portland,” he said. “That’s a huge plus for the city.”
Tom MacMillan, of the West End, told Brennan the city must do a better job of creating affordable housing. Many residents spend half their income to lease an apartment, he said, while others are forced to live in distant suburbs, despite working in Portland.
Brennan agreed that residents should not have to pay such a high proportion of their income on rent, and said the city is working to create a mix of both market-rate and affordable housing options.
“We’re creating as many housing opportunities as we can at all income spectrums,” he said. “Economic prosperity is tied to making it possible to live and work in the city.”
Back Cove resident Scott Seader echoed MacMillan’s concern about the high cost of housing in Portland. Making matters worse are such costs as the expense of the trash bags mandated by the city, Seader said. The familiar blue bags, which residents must use to have their household waste picked up by the Department of Public Services, cost up to $2 per bag.
“You’re taking food money out of people’s pockets,” Seader said, calling the cost of the bags an “unfair burden.”
“It’s a lot of money to pay for, especially for someone like me who’s unemployed,” he said after the meeting. “To pay for (trash bags), in addition to our taxes, is just a slap in the face.”
While disagreeing with Brennan on such issues, most residents at the meeting seemed to appreciate the mayor’s willingness to talk, and concluded the meeting with a round of applause.
Brennan, who said last week that the meeting was “an experiment,” told the attendees he may hold another “Meet the Mayor” session before the end of the year.