<<Portland police blanketed downtown in tear gas at concentrations more than 50 times what federal regulators consider “immediately dangerous,” The Guardian reported yesterday.
The first-of-its-kind analysis was performed by Forensic Architecture, a company that investigates human rights abuses. At one location, it concluded that concentrations were 2,000 times the federal limit on the day researchers modeled.
That was June 2, 2020, known as “Teargas Tuesday” for widespread police use of the toxic gas. Portlanders had taken to the streets that day to protest George Floyd’s murder.
WW reported that summer that police deployed gas in such high concentrations it was seeping into nearby neighborhoods, sickening Portlanders in their homes.
Later that summer, a federal judge found the city of Portland in contempt for failing to limit its use of tear gas. Last year, the city came to a $250,000 settlement after protesters sued it for its “indiscriminate use” of the toxic chemicals.>>
[KW NOTE: KGW has a long piece comparing downtown to a dead mall. But maybe thinking of the city as a mall is part of the problem. Malls exist for only one purpose: shopping. If you treat a neighborhood as a shopping center, you are bound to run into problems. For one, you will probably measure the health of the neighborhood by the wrong metrics.]
<<When you think about a mall, its success is often measured in the number of stores open and operating. If the mall is doing poorly, they close — and the more closed storefronts, the worse the perception of the “health” and prosperity of the mall.
The mall can function as something of an analogy for thinking about downtown Portland, even if the latter is at a much larger scale. The more businesses that thrive downtown, the better for the whole. The more that suffer, the worse.
That conjures up the latest downtown business bombshell that broke this week. Outdoor retailer REI wrote in an email to customers that its longtime store in the Pearl District will close when its lease comes up at the end of February next year.
It’s the only REI store in the Portland city limits, and it’s been serving the area for nearly two decades. The company said that last year, even with increased security, they dealt with the highest number of break-ins and thefts since they opened the store.
The company also said that it had “outgrown” the current space and could not reach a deal with the landlord to address the issues. So they’re moving on out.
It isn’t entirely about crime and safety, since REI cited the issues with the current landlord — but in the company’s statement to customers and the media, they led with the break-ins and theft and not the real estate drama.>>
<<You may remember that yesterday we reported that the REI store in the Pearl announced they were closing due to “an increase in break-ins and thefts in the neighborhood” and that they had “outgrown” their location. Turns out that might not be the only reason: According to new reporting from Oregon Business, employees at the store were getting very close to unionizing. >>
<<The abrupt shutdown of a resource center for homeless people in downtown Portland late last month happened as a result of alleged misconduct by the staff contracted to operate it, according to Multnomah County officials.
On March 29, a county Health Department manager received a complaint involving all three of the contractors that worked at the Behavior Health Resource Center building on Southwest Park and Oak. The next morning, the county said it began to address the allegations by temporarily closing down the center.>>
<<No county employees or homeless clients were named in the allegations, Multnomah County said. Instead, the allegations concerned the Mental Health Addiction Association of Oregon, which the Multnomah County contracts to operate the day center, along with security contractor DPI Security and custodial services provider Northwest Success.
The complaint said that staff from each of the three contractors were involved in inappropriate relationships with other staff. It also indicated that some contracted staff may have used an illegal drug in “powder” form on site.>>
<<MHAAO said it immediately began its own investigation, and so far concluded that the “relationship” claims have been unfounded.
The county also requested investigations from the other two companies. On April 7, DPI Security notified the county that one of their security guards admitted to using cocaine and marijuana on-site and was immediately fired.
As a result, the county directed DPI to replace all of its staff at the center. The contractor said it did not have enough staff available to take over, so Multnomah County switched contractors to Northwest Enforcement Inc.
County officials initially told the media that the closure was for staff to get more training on the volume of overdoses and mental health crises they see as well as address “problems with site security.”
“Because of the nature of the allegations, the county did not disclose the details of the March 29 complaint publicly to preserve the integrity of the investigations and to ensure the allegations could be credibly reviewed,” officials said in a Monday press release.>>
<<As of Monday, the BHRC had reopened to clients. According to the county, the Mental Health Addiction Association of Oregon did complete additional staff training during the closure — including for ethics, safety, de-escalation and administering Narcan.
Multnomah County also said that it added more security cameras inside of the BHRC building, added window protection and made other upgrades for accessibility and safety. Going forward, the center will also have an on-site nurse from Multnomah County and will host a mobile medical clinic once a week.>>
<<On March 30, Multnomah County temporarily shut down its downtown Behavioral Health Resource Center that offers respite to homeless Portlanders.
The county insisted at the time the closure was prompted by the need for more staff training to deal with clients in mental distress and for building improvements.
But two hours before county officials were slated to hold a press conference about the center’s reopening, the county sent out a statement changing that story. It wrote that a March 29 complaint had alleged contracted employees working at the center had used illicit drugs—what the county referred to as “powder”—on the premises. The complaint also alleged staffers from three contracted organizations had engaged in “inappropriate relationships” with one another.
Those contractors were DPI Security, Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon, and janitorial company Northwest Success.
“Late in the evening on March 29, a Health Department manager received a complaint raising several issues at the Center, including that staff from each of the three contractors was involved in inappropriate relationships with other staff,” the county said in its statement today.
“The complaint also indicated that contracted staff—without indicating which contractor—may have used ‘powder’—an illicit drug—on site.”
The county says DPI Security informed county officials April 7 that one of its security guards admitted to using cannabis and cocaine at the center, though not in the presence of clients.
“Due to the allegations of inappropriate relations and the admission of drug use at the site, the county directed DPI Security to replace all its staff at the center,” the county said in its statement. “After the contractor said it did not have enough available staff to do that, the county replaced DPI staff with Northwest Enforcement Inc., which will provide security going forward.”
The day after county officials received the complaint the center was closed. When WW first broke the news of the center’s closure in April, it pressed the county on whether any precipitating events had led to the closure.
The county said no incident had harmed a client.
“We realized there were some programmatic and infrastructure needs that needed to be addressed and this is the time to do it. We’re not aware that any individual client’s experience is driving this decision,” said county spokeswoman Julie Sullivan-Springhetti.
When pressed again, Sullivan-Springhetti said: “We have incidents every day including overdoses, overdose correction, and behavioral health incidents—as we try to serve people in our community with the greatest needs. But we don’t have any one incident of a client being harmed that prompted the closing.”
At no point did the county mention suspected inappropriate behavior or drug use by contractors.>>
<<The county says that during the closure staff underwent 90 hours of training and additional security cameras were installed. The county is also installing motion sensor technology that it says will “prevent potentially fatal overdoses in restrooms and showers.”
Capacity at the center will also be drastically lowered. Only 25 people will now be allowed in the center at any one time. That’s a steep drop from the 100 allowed inside before the closure. Meanwhile, 3,057 people are unsheltered across the county on any given night.>>
<<Six months after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, the Portland City Council pledged to back up its statements of racial solidarity with money. The council voted to allocate $1.9 million annually from its 3% tax on cannabis sales and $1.5 million in one-time funds to the racial justice advocacy group Reimagine Oregon.
Some of the details were hazy. The council tasked Reimagine Oregon with finding “anti-racist investments” to boost Black communities that had endured the brunt of cannabis prohibition. It left the execution to the advocacy group, which was backed by such nonprofits as the Coalition of Communities of Color and the Urban League of Portland.
More than two years later, the money set aside for Reimagine from the cannabis tax now stands at $4.8 million, with an additional $1.9 million projected for the upcoming budget. Not a dollar has been spent.
And on April 12, the city’s only Black commissioner said the millions accrued during that time should now go elsewhere.
Commissioner Mingus Mapps decried the failure to spend the money, and proposed the dollars be returned to the cannabis fund—and perhaps spent on public safety or drug and alcohol treatment. Mapps accused Reimagine Oregon of sitting on the millions of dollars meant for the Black community for three years. Reimagine’s executive director, in turn, accused Mapps of undermining the city’s racial justice efforts, noting the city had never given the group access to the money.
The sour back-and-forth last week highlighted how priorities on the City Council have shifted since the 2020 protests and the election of a council that’s more centrist than it’s been in recent memory.
But it also raises unpleasant questions about the ability of the city and its chosen contractors to deliver on good intentions. The most pressing: How does $2 million annually pile up, unused, without the City Council doing something about it for nearly three years?
Mapps says he flagged the fund when he first entered office more than two years ago. Yet it wasn’t until last week that he—or anyone on the council, for that matter—brought the matter to a vote.
“All of this is an inexcusable mess,” Mapps tells WW. “These dollars should and could be used to serve communities of color. We do not serve them well by not actually spending those dollars year after year after year.”>>
<<Elected during the 2020 racial justice protests after the murder of George Floyd, Mapps says he, as a Black man, has repeatedly been unfairly targeted by police. Yet he’s also been a vocal supporter of the police, a stance that’s drawn the ire of social justice advocates.
And his quest last week to pull back millions in funding set aside for Reimagine reinvigorated those critics. Marcus Mundy, executive director of the Coalition of Communities of Color, called it an “assault to disembowel dollars for Black-focused efforts.”
Justice Rajee, executive director of Reimagine, said there was a “good chance someone has an intention for those funds that are a rebuke of the idea of their origins and a continued lack of commitment to what government says it will do with the community,” referring clearly to Mapps.
For all the acrimony, neither side seemed to have much clue why the money hadn’t been spent.
The Office of Community & Civic Life, which has long been buffeted with accusations of dysfunction, could not provide a timeline of how the money has been handled—and says it has no control over how it’s distributed. (Civic Life is currently disbursing more than $1 million, separate from the $4.8 million, in conjunction with Reimagine, to organizations that help women- and BIPOC-led businesses.)
Rajee told Mapps at the council hearing that Reimagine never saw the funds. “How many small businesses have I helped so far? None because [the funds] are still at the city,” Rajee said. “Clearly, no one has received the funds because the funds are still at the city.”
Mapps tells WW he did not seek information from Civic Life about how the funds remained stuck in the city’s coffers for three years. (Neither did Commissioner Dan Ryan, who oversees the office.) Yet Mapps maintains that the burden is on the program receiving taxpayer money to make it move.
“I kind of expect that if I allocated dollars to a program, I expect the planning to happen at the program level,” Mapps says.
Civic Life’s new acting director, T.J. McHugh, says the same: “If Reimagine had a solid plan, and Civic Life was not delivering, I would imagine Reimagine would be in every single office here saying, ‘I’ve got this plan and I’m not getting funding.’”>>
The City Council voted 3-2 in support of Mapps’ budget amendment, with Mayor Ted Wheeler and Rubio voting against it. But that’s not the end of the matter: First, the council will vote this week whether to approve the whole budget, including Mapps’ amendment to draw back the funds set aside for Reimagine.>>
<<Last week, the Portland City Council passed a budget amendment that would have revoked millions in taxpayer funding set aside for a Black-led advocacy group.
The group, Reimagine Oregon, began accruing annual funds set aside by the city from its cannabis tax fund in 2020. Yet for reasons that are unclear, none of the $4.8 million was used to help the Black community for over two and a half years. Mapps placed the blame on Reimagine; Reimagine pointed the finger back at the Office of Community & Civic Life, which oversees the cannabis fund, for not helping Reimagine form a plan to get the dollars out of the city’s coffers.
But one week later, at today’s City Council meeting, an amendment co-sponsored by Commissioners Carmen Rubio and Dan Ryan reversed Mapps’ amendment.
That means the $4.8 million in funding will remain set aside for Reimagine, and Prosper Portland, a bureau under Rubio’s leadership that’s worked with Reimagine since last winter to create a plan for the dollars. (Prosper will immediately receive $825,000 in cannabis tax funds that will go toward four organizations that support minority-led businesses.)
Both Rubio and Ryan at the council meeting offered strong rebukes to Mapps’ tone last week—even though Ryan had voted in favor of Mapps’ amendment.
“While I did not agree with much of the tone and some of the dialogue, I do think Mapps’ amendment created a sense of urgency,” Ryan said. “Since last week’s vote, my team did a deep dive to research the issue, and it became more and more clear that balls were dropped on all sides, with the city tipping the scales. We need to take responsibility.”
Rubio said: “What happened last week shouldn’t sit well with any of us. Part of good governance is leading with curiosity, asking questions and engaging with one another before walking into these chambers. And that didn’t happen last week.”
Mapps peppered his colleagues and city staff with technical questions about the original prescription of the Reimagine funds. The ordinance signed by council in 2020 mentions a “community-led” process to determine how funds would best be used, and Mapps said he believes such a use may be an “illegal expenditure” under the cannabis fund’s prescribed uses.
“I try not to sign off on things that are illegal,” Mapps said.
After some back and forth between Mapps and budget staff, Rubio asked budget staff directly: “Is anything about this illegal?”
“No,” budget staff responded.>>
<<City Council approved the amendment by a 3-2 vote. Commissioners Rubio and Ryan and Mayor Ted Wheeler voted for it.
“People don’t trust us. They don’t trust their local government, and this is one more reason why,” Wheeler said before he voted in support of the amendment “We stumbled and we had an opportunity to show the community we trusted them, and in last week’s council we went in a different direction. I’m saddened by this. This should’ve been a slam dunk… I’m asking that we as a Council do better for the people that we serve.”
Commissioners Mapps and Rene Gonzalez voted against it.>>
<<Reminder to keep an eye on today’s city council meeting in which Commissioner Mingus Mapps has rallied enough council support to yank away nearly $5 million in promised funds from Reimagine Oregon, a group created to support Black Portlanders. Why would Mapps do such a thing?
He claims the organization has been too slow to dole out the money, but the truth (which he probably knows) is that the city kept the money out of their hands. So once again, “why would he do such a thing?” Maybe somebody should ask his bosses over at the Portland Business Alliance.>>
<<At the height of Portland’s racial justice protests in 2020, Portland City Council members made a series of specific budget investments and cuts to reflect their support of the movement centered on police accountability and racial equity.
One was a recurring annual $1.9 million commitment to a new anti-racist organization called Reimagine Oregon. The money, which came out from the city’s cannabis tax fund, was intended for Reimagine Oregon to use to spur economic growth and stability for Black Portlanders.
Mayor Ted Wheeler characterized this specific investment as the “centerpiece” of his budget proposal at the time.
Nearly three years after making that commitment, Reimagine Oregon leaders say they haven’t received a penny. And now, the city is making sure they never do.
On Wednesday, Portland City Council is expected to retract all cannabis tax money previously reserved for Reimagine Oregon in a budget vote. The proposal to redirect the money comes as an affront to those who trusted the city was interested in supporting its Black community in 2020.>>
Reimagine Oregon began in July 2020 as a volunteer-led coalition of Black leaders calling on local and state officials to pass anti-racist policies, like decriminalizing fare violations on public transit and removing police officers from schools. The organization formed under the nonprofit Urban League of Portland, which offers some organizational support and funding. In August 2021, they hired Rajee to lead the new group. He remains the only staff member.
In June 2020, the city council made a number of concrete steps inspired by the racial justice movement sparked by George Floyd’s May murder.
Those included a $15 million cut to the Portland Police Bureau and a plan to redistribute that money to other city programs. The process continued in November 2020, when city leaders met to make adjustments to the June budget.
A proposal introduced by Wheeler would give Reimagine Oregon two pots of money. The first was $1.5 million from the police budget that would allow Reimagine Oregon to gather feedback from Portland’s Black community on how city dollars could best support Black Portlanders. The city defined this as a “process that seeks to promote anti-racist investments by expanding economic opportunities, wealth creation, and restorative justice to communities that have been disproportionately impacted by police violence, mass incarceration, cannabis prohibition, and the criminal legal system.” These investments could be anything from small business grants to money to help people clear criminal records, depending on what the community recommended.
The second $1.9 million came from the city’s cannabis fund, which is money from a citywide 3% tax on cannabis sales that can be used to support public safety, substance abuse programs, or small businesses.
This funding was intended for Reimagine Oregon to invest in Black Portlanders after gathering community input on where the money should go. City leaders promised to make a recurring $1.9 million contribution to a fund that would be used as directed by the Black community.>>
<<Reimagine Oregon organizers initially weren’t interested in taking the city’s dollars. According to Rajee, Reimagine Oregon’s leadership was “concerned that the city was only choosing to invest these dollars as a trick to make them look good during a time of public outcry and waste our time.” The organization only agreed to accept the money after city leaders insisted that their commitment was genuine. Reimagine Oregon organizers hoped the process to grant Black Portlanders the ability to help decide how city dollars should be spent would serve as a model for how civic institutions should engage with Portland’s Black community in the future.
But when it came time for Reimagine Oregon to use the city’s funds, the process began to break down. According to Rajee, the city never offered an official grant agreement to Reimagine Oregon — a document that must be signed before the city sends any money to an outside organization.
Despite repeated requests to the Office of Community and Civic Life, which oversees the cannabis funds, Rajee said he wasn’t able to secure an agreement.
A spokesperson for the Office of Community and Civic Life said that their agency was not in total control of the funds and noted that many staff members who were initially involved in the process have left the city.
Some of that money initially promised has reached the organization. In December 2022, Reimagine Oregon signed an agreement with the city to accept the $1.5 million from the police bureau promised two years’ prior to gather Black Portlanders’ input on how eventual funding should be equitably distributed. But the city has yet to hand over the millions in cannabis funds promised to actually fund the chosen investments.>>
<<Due to the annual accumulation of cannabis funds promised in 2020, Reimagine Oregon now has just under $5 million set aside by the city for it to use. But the advocacy group has no way to actually access that money.
It’s that pot of money that City Commissioner Mingus Mapps called attention to during an April 12 city council meeting, at which commissioners were proposing mid-year adjustments to the annual budget.
Seeing that the funds for Reimagine Oregon hadn’t been used, Mapps suggested reallocating them.
“Since 2020, Reimagine Oregon has struggled to get these dollars out the door,” Mapps said.
Mapps, the only Black member of Portland City Council, did not acknowledge the fact that the funding had never reached Reimagine Oregon in the first place at the meeting. Instead, he pressed Rajee to detail what projects the money has supported. Rajee explained that his organization hasn’t received any of the promised dollars.
Rajee characterized Mapps’ line of questioning as “disingenuous,” especially since he had sent an email to all city commissioners two days prior detailing the status of those funds.
When asked by OPB, Mapps did not say whether or not he knew Reimagine Oregon hadn’t received any city funding prior to the budget meeting. In an email, Mapps simply reiterated, “The funding was earmarked for a participatory budgeting project for Reimagine Oregon, which has not gotten off the ground to this day.”
Mapps put forward a budget amendment last week to return the accumulated $4,900,000 to the city’s pool of cannabis tax funding available for any outside organizations that apply for it and win city approval. Mapps noted that the money may be better spent on public safety programs or substance abuse treatment.
Rajee said that creating programs to build wealth in the local Black community can directly address the issues Mapps’ raised.
“To say that these things are in opposition is callous and distasteful,” Rajee said.>>
<<For the second time in as many years, Brian Hunzeker, the former head of the Portland police union, has been forced out of the city’s Police Bureau.
He was previously fired little more than a year ago, after leaking a police report in order to damage a political opponent, then-City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. But an employment arbitrator handed Hunzeker back his job in February.
The second honeymoon was short-lived. Last week, Hunzeker resigned after the city learned he was holding a second full-time job as a Clark County, Wash., sheriff’s deputy, in apparent violation of one if not both of his employment contracts.
He had taken the job across the Columbia River while appealing his firing from Portland—and when he got his old job back, he didn’t quit.
Instead, he collected paychecks from both. WW informed the city of his double employment the morning of April 14, and was told that evening that the city had “just learned” of his second job in Clark County. The city had last week opened an internal affairs investigation into Hunzeker’s employment situation, WW learned later.
Hunzeker’s attorney informed the city of his resignation on April 14, chief deputy city attorney Heidi Brown tells WW. He later returned his equipment, and $27,000 in pay and other expenses.
The Portland Police Association, which Hunzeker once led, says it had no idea Hunzeker held on to his second job. Clark County appears also to have been caught unawares. Its sheriff’s office, where Hunzeker has been employed since August, announced Saturday he had been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.
The fallout marks perhaps the last chapter of an incredible saga.
Hunzeker rose in the Portland Police Bureau from motorcycle cop to leading one of the state’s most powerful unions, before being fired for using his new power to attack one of the bureau’s fiercest critics. The mayor’s attempt to fire him failed. Instead, his downfall came from a transgression so basic it’s hard to fathom: working as a police officer in two cities in different states.
“What a waste of everybody’s time and energy,” says Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch. “How much money and time were spent putting this guy back on the force over the objections of community members…and then it’s just all for naught.”
Since first hearing rumors that Hunzeker had sought employment in Washington, WW has tried to answer to an ever-lengthening list of questions: In which state was Hunzeker showing up for work? How long did the city of Portland know of the arrangement? And if it didn’t, how exactly did Hunzeker think he was going to get away with cashing paychecks for two near-six-figure salaries without someone noticing?>>
<<Soon after Hunzeker’s 2022 firing, the former Portland cop applied to become a sheriff’s deputy in Southwest Washington, where he had long resided. The job was in many respects an improvement for Hunzeker, offering a comparable salary for a far shorter commute.
On April 28, the Clark County Civil Service Commission reviewed his application. According to minutes from the meeting, the commission debated whether termination for his retaliatory leaking had been appropriate and concluded, evidently, it wasn’t.
Four out of the five commissioners present voted in Hunzeker’s favor.>>
<<Hunzeker was hired Aug. 2, 2022. A WW review of the county sheriff’s Facebook page indicates Hunzeker performed rote police work.
In October, he investigated a convenience store burglary in Felida, a small suburb just north of Vancouver. In November, he was called to the scene after a young man walked into the aftermath of a late-night Halloween party and stole credit cards and audio equipment. When the Maple Tree Neighborhood Association needed a sheriff’s liaison, Hunzeker stepped in.
As Hunzeker was building a new career in Washington, an arbitrator returned his old one.
In February, Timothy Williams reviewed Hunzeker’s firing and determined it was unwarranted, concluding he had leaked secrets but that the retaliatory nature of the act was protected speech. Williams ordered the city to give Hunzeker back his job, plus back pay.>>
<<This presented a problem for Hunzeker. He now had two full-time jobs, and he appears to have done little if anything to address the conflict.
The Portland police union’s contract with the city prohibits “more than 20 hours per week of secondary employment.” But a spokesman for Clark County tells WW that Hunzeker was working “full time” four days a week.
Hunzeker earned approximately $45 an hour, which amounts to a $90,000 salary.
Beginning Feb. 27, Hunzeker was put back on Portland’s payroll, earning a $107,744 base salary according to a spokesperson for the city’s Bureau of Human Resources.
That means Hunzeker earned two nearly six-figure salaries for almost two months, an impressive accomplishment for an officer who was fired in disgrace only a year earlier.
It remains unclear what the Portland Police Bureau was paying Hunzeker to do. There’s no indication he was on patrol in Portland—after all, he was on duty in Clark County four days a week. The Portland Police Bureau has not responded to questions about Hunzeker’s assigned duties.>>
<<To some observers, that’s especially galling given how regularly the bureau bemoans a shortage of officers.>>