Community Conversation with Ciara Pressler
About this Episode
December 12, 2019
Sarah sits down with Ciara Pressler of Pregame to discuss how to make Portland affordable and accessible to creatives and entrepreneurs. Sign up for our newsletter at sarah2020.com to receive updates on the campaign and future live events.
Have a question for Sarah? Email it to [email protected].
Announcer: Welcome to a special edition of Our Portland with Sarah Iannarone. This episode was recorded on Monday, December 9th at a community conversation featuring Ciara Pressler of Pregame Sarah and Ciara discussed how to make Portland affordable and accessible to creatives and entrepreneurs. And now here's Sarah for Portland Campaign Manager, Greg McKelvey.
Greg: Creatives, entrepreneurs and small business owners are the heart and soul of Portland and a major driver in our economy. Designers, musicians, chefs, actors, writers, artists, and countless other innovators and creatives along with their independent accountants, hairstylists and bike mechanics make Portland the wonderful place it is to work, live and play that we all love. This is a discussion about economic development and prosperity, about diversity and inclusion, about a sustainable economy iandn urban vitality. But most importantly, it's a conversation about the kind of city we want Portland to be and how we can make that vision a reality. I also want to let everybody know that our next community conversation will be on Monday, January 13th and the topic will be the role of faith groups in addressing Portland's most pressing problems. So if you sign up for our campaign and our newsletter sarah2020.com, you will get the updates on that and all the other good stuff you need to know.
Greg: With that, I would like to introduce our amazing speakers today. Ciara Pressler is an advocate for small business owners, entrepreneurs and independent professionals in Portland and beyond. She is an executive coach to city officials, a member of commissioner Hardesty's small business advisory committee, part of the latest Portland Business Alliance public service training cohort and was recognized as a Portland Business Journal 40 under 40. Her company Pregame provides innovative, accessible business coaching for entrepreneurs and independent professionals every day at their space in the Pearl district. Pregame is certified by the State of Oregon as a 100% women owned and minority owned business. Could we give it up for Ciara Pressler.
Greg: And then I also have the pleasure of introducing Sarah Iannarone, for which I do not have a bio written because I can speak from the heart. Sarah is a friend, obviously a neighbor, an educator, a former small business owner, and also the next mayor of Portland. So with that, I'll let Sarah start there. There will be a conversation and then we will get into audience questions. Thank you all and have a good time.
Sarah: Thanks Greg. And we are taping the podcast. So if you're heckling me from the audience, just know that everyone in Portland who subscribes to the podcast will hear your heckling. So there you go. Exactly. I thought, you know, one of the basic planks of my campaign is that we have everything we need to begin solving some of our most pressing problems today and the basis of that is going to be the strength of our community. And some people may chuckle and think I'm being glib when I say, you know, the answer to homelessness is us repairing our civic fabric, but I truly believe that for us to solve some of the most pressing crises that are in front of us, that we have to be as strong as healthy, as connected and communicative as possible with each other. So I do like to start us with a little icebreaker.
Sarah: In my last community conversation I had some former students in the room, so they were used to it. I don't think they are here, but I put on my professor hat for this and I would like you to pair up with someone that maybe you didn't come here with tonight or that you haven't met before and just take, we'll give you one minute each so it takes a few minutes for this to get done, but take a minute and share with that person one thing that you're very excited about that's happening in Portland and one thing that you're worried about that's happening in Portland. Alright? Go.
Sarah: Thanks for being willing to do that. Sometimes it can be intimidating to strike up a conversation with someone that you don't know, but I think also that these times call for a bit of courage from us. And so thinking about how we can just engage in things outside our comfort zone, um, each and every day is going to be an important exercise, and if we exercise it, we'll get good at it. So with that, I think I would like to ask you Ciara what are you most excited about in Portland right now? And maybe one thing that you're a little bit concerned about going on here.
Ciara: Hmm. Well, this time of year I'm excited about all the cultural things that are happening in Portland. I think there are a lot of really cool, you know, live performances and some cool art happening around the city. So that is exciting to me and I'm seeing more different types of performance and performance art happening.
Sarah: Anything on remind that's troubling you a little about….
Ciara: So many things we'll get to some of them today. I think just, you know, my ongoing battle lately has been to try to, um, find out what resources exist for small business and then also share the resources that I know of and in a way that people can easily digest.
Sarah: Okay. So now me, right?
Ciara: Yes. What are you excited about?
Sarah: I'm excited about being the mayor. No, I'm just kidding.
Ciara: I'm excited for that.
Sarah: I'm excited about having a new mayor for sure. I think one of the things that I'm most excited about right now in Portland is all the pent up energy I'm seeing out on the campaign trail from everybody that I meet who wants to get involved and really pull their sleeves up and be a part of making Portland the best place that it can be. It renews me day after day even though campaigning is really tiring, and so just seeing our Portland come together in community always feeds me and makes happy. I think our biggest struggle right now is having enough educational resources and enough capacity so that we can have meaningful, engaged dialogues with each other across our differences. I find so often, like it's these initial things that divide us and it makes it really hard to bridge those without time to educate, without time to connect in less harmful, less antagonistic ways. So I would like to see us get better at that so we can have a little bit more progress on the other front. I have a feeling we'll talk about that more in a few minutes.
Ciara: Always. All right, well let's jump in now. I'm going to turn the tables cause usually you're hosting the podcast, but I get to host a little bit, and I'm just so curious to ask you several questions around this topic. I want to let you guys know that I first became aware of Sarah about four years ago and she was on a stage like this having a conversation and I showed up because I really cared about some of the issues and wanted to hear, you know, I, I was newer to Portland then I grew up here, moved away, came back. Um, and I just, I love how accessible our leaders are in the city. I think it's really amazing, some of them, but, she was talking about small business and solutions for small businesses and independent professional self employed people and no one had ever talked about those things before.
Ciara: It's so often a totally overlooked demographic because we're not making like the big campaign contributions and we're not the people driving the chamber of commerce and its decisions. And so a lot of times we just get overlooked. And she was bringing up ideas about that. And I said, I like this person, and so we became friends actually, after meeting at a different conference. And so we were having breakfast, uh, about a month or two ago and came up with the idea for this conversation. So I was really excited about that. So today we want to talk about everybody who's in this sort of independent professional, maybe you're aren't, you aren't full a full time employee of a company. So we're defining it as people who are, you know, driving their own hustle basically, whether you're an artist, you're building something on the side, maybe you're still in school and you're experimenting with different types of jobs, doing freelance work.
Ciara: Maybe you're a permalancer at one of the bigger companies, or maybe you own your own business, but it's still a small business. And it's funny, sometimes they define small businesses like 250 people or fewer. No, I mean like 10 people or fewer. Small small business. Or maybe it's just you and like a part time person. So that's what we're talking about here. And I know, you know, the first thing that always comes up is affordability. And yet, you know, those of us who are self employed or independent are driving the economy in so many ways. So a lot of the people I encounter in my work are, are talking about these issues and affordability is up at the top. So let's jump into that. So as mayor, Sarah, what will you do to recognize freelancers and independent professionals as an important demographic in our city?
Sarah: Yeah, this is really on everyone's mind regardless of your employment, but I think it's particularly important for people employed in this way because a rapid rise in rent, especially when you're hustling month to month can make or break whether or not you're able to make that rent. And so I think making sure that we're looking at housing security as the backbone of our housing plan is going to be very important. One of the things that I hear again and again is that there are not enough protections for people month to month out of our office of renter services, which when the mayor ran last time, he worked really hard on a platform of tenants rights. But then when time came to implement that, it's always a little atrophied in its execution. Right? And we run thin on things like a temporary rent assistance, but even not so temporary, say you're a worker and your income is either seasonal or it's irregular, making sure that people have access to those bridge monies at zero finance rates so that our most vulnerable people are ending up at the check cashing place leveraging their future just so they can stay housed this month is going to be really important. So I think I'm a good investment in, um, renter supports a really robust renter protections and renter rights and thinking about housing justice so that people, um, at all levels of the economic spectrum have access to housing that they can afford is important.
Sarah: I think in particular for people who may work from home, and I started to learn about this when I left Portland State in February and was freelancing myself and working independently that you need certain things when you work outside of a main office, and it's great to be here at The Riveter and see what they've created for people for an opportunity like this. But I think for people at all edges of the economy, whether it's coworking space or creative space or co-ops or community land trust so that artists and creatives or even just people interested in coming together to create settlements that reflect their values and reflect what they're trying to do. We need to make those less difficult to bring online because so often the red tape and the bureaucracy in Portland is what I'm hearing again and again that when we try to do something innovative or we try to do something creative that reflects our values, all that we face are obstacles and every time we're trying to do something cheaper, somehow the city makes the cost of that project go up.
Sarah: When really as a city we should be seeing the richness in that, the potential in that and the investment in that as our community members contributing to our society in a productive and healthy ways. And you know, putting our dollars toward that. I do think that there's something that we didn't think of enough in our comprehensive plan that I would like to go back and look at more. I was on the mixed use zones and town centers committee for our planning update, which is us trying to get as much affordable housing supply close to transit as possible. We forget how much people who are on their own hustle, as you say, in a very cute way. I like that. Who are on their hustle have to move about town in every direction. Right? And so if we have folks, stuck in their automobiles, in traffic, we are then comprising traffic.
Sarah: If we don't have an effective, efficient transit system and a lot of housing close to transit, then we're already handicapping ourselves on that front. But what we tried to do, and a few of my committee members and I proposed but the city economists told us it couldn't be done, was even as we were creating new ways to create affordable housing close to transit, we wanted to have affordable commercial space in those projects as well. Because what happens is, is when you only have affordable housing, but the commercial space isn't affordable, then you get all the, I call it the ampersand economy, but it's these boutiques. It's something ampersand, something, right? Like textile and air or whatever.
Ciara: And espresso.
Sarah: That you then have all of these commercial endeavors that don't necessarily reflect the values or the culture or the community that you've been able, hopefully by hook or by crook, been able to keep there or be in place there or prevent from being displaced.
Sarah: So I'd like to us to be able to go back and revisit that and think about permanently affordable commercial space and what that would mean for us as artists and creatives too, and ultimately I think we need to think about anti-displacement as well, not just for residents but for businesses and creative endeavors. Because when we talk about displacement through gentrification, I think it's the breaking apart of community fabric. So the more that we can keep communities intact as a matter of displacement anti-displacement and think of that beyond housing purely, we'll be ahead of the game. If we can have our thinking at that 30,000 foot level on that front,
Ciara: You bring up some great points. You know, one that for any of us who are in charge of our own income, it's not consistent month to month. There can be a huge roller coaster of when finances are coming in. Maybe you've already done the work but you haven't been paid for the work yet. You know, there's a lot of assumptions from traditional financing, rent, that our income is not how it actually manifests. Right? And then you brought up another point about space, you know, especially professional space and I think, anyone in here who's creative in any way probably understands that feeling of walking by an empty space that you're like, I could make that a gallery or I could make that like a site specific performance space or you know, for me I'm like, Oh, that would, the coolest local business could go in there. But it's just not affordable or tenable, but it's just sitting there empty and it just drives us crazy.
Sarah: That's a huge liability issue. This is going to be my new talking point because I arrived on it recently and I just can't get it out of my head, is that the city of Portland needs to flip on its head, how it's risk averse thinking goes. We're very, very risk averse in the short term and we're willing to assume all these great risks about our future, right? Like the hollowing out of our creative class or the hollowing of our artists, the hollowing out of our communities, the destruction of our environment. Instead, we should be very risk averse about the long term and be a little bit less risk averse in the short term and figure out ways to bridge either the liability or the other concerns that get raised about why this will or won't work. Try things, be willing to fail, revise and go back. Take a much more innovative and creative mindset even toward the policy innovations that we're going to be throwing down.
Ciara: Yeah. Be willing to try something instead of make a 10 year plan for exploring, possibly trying something maybe you know, with something that, you know, art is relatively low risk. We're not talking about, you know, other issues that do take 10 years of study before we build a new freeway. We're just talking about putting some art up in a space that's empty anyway.
Sarah: They'll tell you, Oh, we need liability insurance and we need this and we need that. So if there were more blanket places for us to tap into or host organizations, things like that so that we can make sure that those were there when people needed them to, to capitalize on opportunity and not just let them sit fallow, then I think then we would be in a better position moving forward.
Ciara: On the issue of space. One thing that came up in the um, group I, I work with, um, for the small business advisory committee, is how difficult it is to navigate city agencies. So say you do want to create a product. You need a commercial kitchen. You need the proper licenses to open an actual space. So you have a brick and mortar business, whether you're a maker. Probably if you're a maker our services don't require the same permitting, but how difficult it is to get the city to come out and do the right approvals to even find the information. And that's my big issue is that just finding the information or what resources are even available to us is so difficult. So do you have any vision for making that easier to navigate?
Sarah: You're not the first person to say that to me on the campaign trail. I am actually quite surprised that regardless of who I'm talking to from across sector, it can be a neighborhood organization, it could be a nonprofit housing developer, the difficulty in navigating Portland's bureaucracy is baffling and frustrating and sometimes counter to our goals of what we're trying to achieve because it either raises costs or people give up in frustration and don't avail themselves of what we do have to offer. In anticipation for our event today, I actually did a little exercise where I went into the City of Portland, it's portlandoregon.gov, and I just put into the search bar, small business. And there was actually no portal, unique portal for small business to find the things that they would need. And that just makes my brain hurt a little bit.
Sarah: When you think about how complex we've made certain things, right? I think we've forgotten in some ways that the function of government is to help people be their best selves, and we get in the way as this intercessor who's there to, in some ways it becomes more obstacle than a help. And so I think one of the things, this is actually quite an old idea and it goes all the way back to the 70s but once upon a time we had a small business concierge out of the mayor's office.
Ciara: I love it.
Sarah: Yeah, I think it would be a simple position where you could have a single problem solver for, I mean it could be broader than small business per se. I mean, it could, it could go to this whole conversation, but this notion that there would be a single interface, that person might not solve all of your problems, but like the concierge at a hotel, they can direct you in the right place until we actually have systems in place that people can navigate virtually.
Ciara: I love this idea because if any of you have ever tried to find like the place to get this information, it can be very difficult. I've had Pregame in it's current form for almost three and a half years and just became aware last week of a resource with free advising and business consulting coaching that exists that's subsidized by the city, didn't know it was available, didn't know it was available to me and yet, you know, their mission is supposed to be to serve me and people like me. And so it's, it's very difficult to find these things. And I think if you're self employed, there's an assumption that you have all this time to go and find these resources, but you don't like, your time is super valuable, especially if you're charging for your time or trying to make money. And so having one central place to find out about all the different organizations that there are, you know, the millions of events that there are in this city for, um, small businesses, freelancers, just where to go.
Sarah: And I think it reflects a value though, right? I mean, you can be a place that thinks that the businesses that you want to take care of are in that recruitment world out there, right? That regional headquarter, that Amazon regional headquarter that you're trying to get to land in your city and invest in that as your economic future. Or, you can see the people who are the innovators in your city. The ones, who I think are going to help us have a sustainable, resilient economy because we're connected to each other. We're connected to our place that then that is how we're spending our time and money and energy. Right? It's just in some ways it's as much a mindset as an investment or just a redirection of some of our values and focus.
Ciara: I'm curious just to take it backwards, what has informed your, view on small business? You have owned a small business, maybe somethings that that happened there that gave you insight that maybe isn't reflected in our current city government.
Sarah: Well, and this is where having a development services office that can do inspections and permitting and something that I'm calling pink tape development as opposed to red tape development, right? Can we start to think in 21st century thinking in terms of what we need to be, creating bespoke and what we maybe could do a little bit more cookie cutter. I think let's have the creative product be bespoke and have the cookie cutter permitting system, right? Like let's do a few more things that work more efficiently and effectively. There. I was a small business owner for many years and I actually, when you were saying. I'd walk an empty space and I said, wow, wouldn't it be great if, and that's actually what happened to me. I walked by this empty space across from the community center. The nickname for my neighborhood at that time was felony flats or some days methylehem, depending on how you looked at it.
Sarah: And I thought, you know, the things that people come together and are proud about our parks, our community centers, coffee shops, breakfast joints. And so I just waded in and what made that possible for me was very low rents. But, today I don't know that I would be able to do that. The business then I no longer own it. But, at the time it's in one of those unreinforced masonry buildings now. So thinking about what we're going to do for seismic retrofits would be something that would be important at the time. That wasn't a huge consideration for me. At the time my neighborhood wasn't perceived as desirable, so the rents were low and I had good terms for that. The fact that rents were low for our homes too and where we lived, I was able to still be a student and my partner could work part time while we opened the business and still have enough money to survive.
Sarah: I don't think people realize that a lot of times people starting a new business or already working full time or maybe already doing a lot of freelancing to make ends meet. And so as our rents continue to rise, and I hate to keep coming back to rents again and again, but as housing costs continue to spiral out of control, it just gives people less freedom when it comes time to even take that leap. And something that I learned in the UK when I was recently on a best practices trip to England and Scotland, looking at small businesses and that we don't think about in the States as much, but the fact that they have national healthcare there means that here a lot of times people are stuck in their corporate gigs or situations that when you want to go start up something or you want to follow your passion or you want to go be a maker, that lack of health care and support or even things like child care and our, you know, universal pre-K that we lack here means a lack of options and lack of freedom for our people.
Ciara: I've seen people well leaving the businesses. They started lately to go back in house as an employee just for benefits.
Sarah: Oh, I can, I can totally see it. I mean me leaving Portland state to run for mayor was terrifying, but thanks. Obamacare.
Ciara: Yes, I understand that. A couple more questions and then I'll ask Greg to pass me some of your cards. You know, you mentioned gentrification. I've lived through a gentrification cycle in another city where I moved into a neighborhood because it was affordable, but it was, you know, no one else would go. There was sketchy, you know, like we really, there was nothing, there were like two restaurants, and we would, you know, take transit to go to other parts of the city to work. And everyone who was moving into the neighborhood was artists and we were turning these spaces into cool art spaces and putting art up in the neighborhood and opening, you know, affordable cafes. And by no means were we the first people to live in this neighborhood, but it was, you know, all we could afford and it was working and you know, then it got really cool. And then everybody moved in and pretty soon, like we were priced out of the neighborhood. And so I'm looking at that gentrification cycle, which is obviously already happened in a lot of neighborhoods in Portland. Do you have a plan as mayor to make sure that people can stay where they've always lived or to create neighborhoods that are conducive to different types of people living there without people getting pushed out?
Sarah: Yeah, that's a really complicated question. And this is where you knew going into the concept, even of gentrification and the complexity of understanding that and trying to break it into its constituent parts because many of those areas are actually quite happy when investment, at least the first wave of investment comes because it's tends to be local and creative and it enriches the place. And often property values for existing property owners go up and even things like crime go down, right? So there are people who perceive some of those types of things as a positive for neighborhoods like that, that are like say, perceived as blighted. Right? But at the same time, I've often called artists and creatives the indicator species of gentrification. By the time they're there, that cycle is already underway. And so what does it mean for us to think ahead of that in terms of what we want is improved, livability, improved environment.
Sarah: We want improved public safety. We want safe streets, we want vibrant neighborhoods all over the city. But the part that we don't want is the displacement. The part that we don't want is the disenfranchisement. The part that we don't want is the speculative impact of, especially outside investors looking at the good place making that Portlanders have done, whether it's planting trees or street paintings or opening cafes. And suddenly the speculative value of the real estate becomes the raison d'etre of Portland. And that is what our city has become, a product. And I think the more that we focus on making good places all over this city from 170 fourth and division out in Rosewood, you know, all the way to Capitol highway and investments there ever time we're making these improvements in our city. We're saying is this a good place for Portlanders and how can we ensure that our people are able to stay in place here?
Sarah: How can we ensure that there's an ample amount of supply of affordable housing and commercial space all across the city so that no matter who you are or where you want to be, if you want to stay in a neighborhood, you can, but if you want to move to a different one, that's an option too. Like maybe you start out living in the Pearl district, which actually most Portlanders don't know, has a very high rate of affordable housing. And then you decide you want to live in Northeast Portland or you decide you want to live in Southwest because you like the parks. They're like, I would like us to see Portlanders have options based on what life they'd like to have at any particular time too. And the only way that we can do that is if we think in this universal fashion about really good, compact, walkable neighborhoods connected by transit from one edge of the city to the other and ultimately from one edge of our region to the other. Because, to me, that's the basis of my climate action plan to the richer and more vibrant. Our neighborhoods are all over this city. The lower our greenhouse gas emissions will be too. So I think it's like a three for one if we can create those compact walkable neighborhoods.
Ciara: Transit's definitely part of this and it's not something I know a lot about. But, I know you've studied a lot about transit and thinking longterm about infrastructure of the city. And so as mayor, how would you partner with Metro knowing that transit means not just connecting Portland but connecting all the, adjacent communities as well.
Sarah: So this is a conversation that's been on a lot of people's minds is transit, Fairless, transit, and what's Portland going to do? I actually do think it should be the regional government and the regional transit authorities job to provide, affordable nonviolent transportation to all of the people of our region.
Ciara: Yeah, you can snap and clap for that.
Sarah: But we're not seeing that right now the same way as we're not seeing the leadership at the state level on climate action. Right. And so what I believe we need to do, and one reason that I think Portland needs a very bold mayor right now is we're going to have to do the kind of leadership from below the, I'm going to actually be expecting at the community planning level on all of these fronts, which is Portland is going to have to step up onto its bully pulpit and do what we have to do to get that Fairless transit for our people and that may be paying TriMet to provide that for Portlanders only and then if you're a Portlander, you have that free transit and if you're from Gresham, I'm sorry, but maybe Gresham should get mad and then we'll all go to Metro and make that happen.
Sarah: Right. Also, I think that what we need to do is think about if, if TriMet ultimately won't enter into contracts with us to provide that service, then we're going to have to work on providing that for ourselves because I just cannot live in a place where I have people who, between 120 second and 168 and 170 fourth in East Portland, have no cross town bus services. When many of those people are service workers, many of those folks have to get to the Columbia slew to manufacturing jobs, and they have absolutely no transit access. That's like a drag on my economy as the mayor of Portland, right? That's a drag on my people as the mayor Portland, and that's a drag on the prosperity of Portland, and so I believe that as Portlanders, we're going to need to double down and figure out how to tax ourselves to pay for the transportation system that we know that we want, not just for our economy, for the climate too. I'm pretty passionate about that. As you can tell.
Ciara: You just mentioned all Portland and I wanna take it to, the value of diversity, which you talk about and everyone's talking about right now, but let's like put it on the ground and make an actual, an actual measurable thing. So having a diverse workforce is incredibly important. It's important to the economy. It's important to quality of life. It's important cause it's our value. Retaining, attracting, educating people from all backgrounds, including new Americans, immigrants, refugees, all these communities that are from Portland or coming to Portland. How do we create a Portland that's inclusive and welcoming?
Sarah: Yeah, It goes across, I'll circle back to the economic spectrum, but even just talking from a social perspective, I was at a campaign event yesterday and a woman came up to me and said, why, you know, how are we even going to make gains on equity and inclusion in Portland? And one of the things that I keep going back to in this conversation that we're having as a city about our future through this election cycle in part is this notion that growth is happening here, right? As we see climate instability, racking communities all over this globe, the politics, the economics, the weather that goes with that instability and how people are going to be moving at increasing rates all around this planet and the amount of migration that's going to be continuous, the number of people who are going to move here.
Sarah: I want us to adopt a mindset that inclusivity is our framework for prosperity into the future. Like there is no alternative for that and we need to almost create this kinship model where new people coming to Portland are immediately welcome here. You're welcome. We're going to have ways for you to get engaged. You come to Portland, you are here. Whether you're an immigrant or a refugee or someone who wants to move here from bend or Ashland or San Francisco. I don't care if you have chosen or maybe not even chosen but landed here and Portland is your home, then you are a Portlander and we're going to come together on that.
Ciara: Thank you for saying that. There's a lot of this, like I'm a native Portlander I'm a fifth generation Oregonian, you know, and I think, you know, Portland's amazing and of course someone would want to live in Portland even if they weren't born in Portland. And so why can't we say everybody is part of Portland who chooses to be part of Portland, you know, and part of that is embracing the values that we're talking about right here. I'm going to have people pass their cards if you've written a question over to the volunteers and I'm going to take some of those cards if you have some for me too. Or are you going to read them? Whoever's going to read them.
Sarah: I think while they gather those things, it was, I do want to say one more thing on last question though because I do want to talk about it from the economic perspective and not just the social, because this is where Portland sleeps a little bit on the diversity, equity and inclusion tip. It seems like this very good thing and wouldn't it be aspirational if we did it, but I really think that we need to adopt that mindset too, that no matter what we're looking at on that front, that it's an opportunity for more prosperity and not a burden. Right? I always feel like there's this very charitable mindset toward diversity and inclusion in Portland where, wouldn't it be nice if we did that? But I went to Pittsburgh a few years ago on again on another best practices trip and they had a program there called vibrant Pittsburgh and what they were doing as a city was looking at diversity as the basis of their economy for the future.
Sarah: So everything in their economic development model was based around how do we have a diverse workforce? They have dashboards, tracking it, they have programs and it doesn't matter. Again, if these are immigrant or refugee workers or whether they're diverse community members who've been there for a long time or newcomers who are coming. But this notion that this was not just something to be dealt with, right? How can we be more diverse or how can we be more inclusive but Hey, let's be more diverse and inclusive as a matter of economic development blew my mind. And then they were having clear metrics. Like this notion of what you measure is what you'll get. Then having clear metrics even around we would like to see our diverse workforce members have their incomes increased by certain percentages so we can track them. For Portland, I think we need to get on track with like seeing all of these things that we framed as challenges as opportunities and come up with clear metrics. Not only to achieve them but celebrate them. Thank you for saying that.
Ciara: I wrote a strongly worded editorial last winter about this phenomenon in Portland of white straight males appointing themselves diversity experts because they hired some interns, who are people of color. And I said, you know, not only are there people of color who are business people who can help you at every level of your business like in 2019 and 2020 when you'll be elected. You know, having a, a lens of being able to see the market through every different perspective is an economic necessity.
Greg: The first question we have here is anti-blackness is embedded in our systems, therefore creating criminal background issues, prohibiting some folks to rent. Do you have any innovative ideas to address this?
Sarah: So it's actually just not on this front, but there's a lot of people who have nontraditional incomes. We were working on our rethinking public safety policy and folks in, who are sex workers obviously have earned their income from a nontraditional, hard to document sources as well. And so verifying income can be hard for people who are outside the traditional workforce model or who come with, other, check marks on their background if you will. I actually think commissioner Daley has led the best on this front with the fair access and a lot of the rental protections that she's been trying to put through. But I actually think this is one place where making sure that we are doing a better job with the office of renter services and thinking about it in tandem with the housing bureau so that our housing bureau is a bureau of housing access and justice and making sure that our renter services and our renter help and the renter protections are fully fleshed out and then backed by expertise in our city to make sure that people are getting into the housing that they need.
Sarah: And also making sure then that our landlords are educated about what is and is not allowed in terms of discrimination and what they need to require. I'd like to keep chipping away at that, especially on the security deposit front. Those are pretty onerous. The background checks obviously, which commissioner Daley has done a lot of work on. Thinking about what we're going to, try to accomplish in those renter protective and, renter services, Relm, what have you learned from your 2016 campaign?
Sarah: Well, I met Ciara. I learned to invite Ciara to talk with me, (chuckles) what I learned was, to build a strong campaign from the very get go when I ran in 2016, it was because I saw a couple of guys having a conversation about our city that didn't reflect at all what I thought the conversation about the future of our city needed to look like. And there are some of you there who were at that time, there's also a former mayoral candidate in the room who was not included in that group by the way. But he did not have the privilege of steering that conversation. Bim Ditson is in the room. He was running as a person to protect the creative heart and soul of Portland. I think your tagline was. So thank you for that.
Sarah: But there were people who were the dominant faces in that conversation who were really not talking about these things. Even then. And think of the opportunity costs of four years of not making more progress since then. It's heartbreaking almost when you think about the, the, gains we could have made in this time and how far we're backsliding through inaction. But so what I learned was, start early, build an amazing team from the get go. And I'm also just very fortunate because I'm bolstered by two new laws that the people of Portland passed. One is measured 26, 200, which is $500 campaign limits. It started at Multnomah County and then we've also passed it at the city. Almost 88% of Portland voters voted yes on that. So I firmly believe, and I'm hoping that they will be held up in the Supreme court upheld in the Supreme court.
Sarah: And then also, I'm a publicly financed candidate now. So it means that last time when I was committed to grassroots values and community values and community preservation, it was hard for me to get the downtown business set or the downtown development community or the big interest to invest in these ideas because they don't serve them. They don't maintain their power, and they don't maintain the existing power structures. And they may be slightly anathema to how Portland, extracts profits from people in places. But since I'm publicly financed, now I know that I can say these things and build a popular movement and we will have enough money, to win because we are bolstered by public campaign financing.
Greg: What role might a public municipal bank play in economic development of Portland? And then I added, does Sarah support a public municipal bank?
Sarah: I do support a public municipal bank. I actually wrote, one into my green new deal for Portland because I think that we have, when I was talking earlier about being a risk-averse with regard to the longterm future and less risk-averse in the short term, one of the things we do need to do for our long term future is make sure that our infrastructure is resilient. We need to make sure that our community safety hubs are shored up. We need to make sure that our neighbors are prepared for disaster. We need to be dismantling fossil fuel infrastructure. We need to be in building incredible amounts of housing, including public housing. And so for us to make an investment in the creation of a public bank means that even as we're financing our future, our sustainable, resilient future, then the benefits of that financing aren't accruing to wall street lenders, but they're accruing to Portlanders. And so it closes the loop on our economy. And we were actually, I was actually talking with one person earlier about what does it mean for our economy to be firmly bounded, you know, locally, regionally in, in our ecosystem here so that we are actually as Portlanders investing in ourselves and not having the value that we create through our work through our land, extracted by wall street. So yeah. Go public bank.
Greg: Ciara feel free to jump into this or any other questions. Affordable housing near transit can be beneficial. However, affordable in quotations doesn't really reach a lot of communities. To be able to afford to live in these spaces as well as forgets a lot of communities that have already moved further out. What are your ideas or plans to ensure transit is reaching these already existing communities that is frequent, accessible and takes them to where they need to go?
Sarah: I talked about that a little bit, right. It really is thinking about the net transportation as a safety net and a connective fabric that goes across our city to connect us day to day, not just to our families, not just to our work, our schools, our play, but to our lives, right? for many people, and I hear this especially from people experiencing homelessness, that that, transit access, especially in the absence perhaps of 200 or 250 cents in the absence of $2.50, can mean the difference between making it to that appointment that keeps you out of crisis. Right? And a lot of times we've actually looked askance at Fare-less transit. You know, ostensibly we got rid of, Fairless square because that was a public safety issue, which really meant we don't want poor people riding around on our buses and streetcar and trains all day.
Sarah: And so for me, I see that connectivity as the basis of how we move forward, even, not afterthought to the housing, but in tandem with the housing. And I do want to say this, that in housing plan, which will be released, right at the, as we go from 2019 into 2020, the way that we're thinking about this is as a continuum. I understand that the dictionary definitions of affordable capital A tend to be, out of reach, especially for most Portlanders, right? Even, if you're making a $20 an hour, you barely even make a hundred MFI. You're probably making like 70 or 80 MFI here. So we have to think carefully about what affordability, no jargon. Oops. Median family income, right? So you're still below average. Even if you're making $20 an hour and what are you doing? If you have to be a caregiver, someone's not earning wages.
Sarah: So we need to be thinking about in our housing plan, how many, raise your hand if you've seen the strategic plan for housing to deal with our housing crisis. Yeah. No hands raised because the city doesn't have one. Like we don't even have a strategic plan to deal with our housing shortage so, how much do we know that we need for people who are on zero income? How do we, how much supply do we need for people who are living on $800 a month on $1,200 a month on $1,600 a month? Right? So these are the things that we haven't really evaluated and so we don't have a comprehensive strategy for dealing with them as well. So I am thinking about that carefully in our planning is what does it mean for us to not just be brilliant at long range planning like into 2035, but what do we need to do in the next five years to staunch the bleeding so that our communities and our most vulnerable people aren't just tipping into homelessness day after day.
Ciara: Can I add to that? Something I really appreciate is there is a problem now in city hall and in city agencies where there's just no concept of the perspective of people who are self employed, right? And there's that gap between homeless or low income or what qualifies for someone to qualify for services and subsidies and where you can actually afford to live in the city. There's that middle gulf and I think that's where a lot of us fall or have fallen at a certain point of being self employed. And so we really need people at city hall and in city agencies and running the show, the decision makers who understand what our lifestyles like.
Sarah: Yeah, I would agree.
Greg: Plans for civic growth have not taken climate refugees into account. Have you developed contingency plans for radical levels of population increase?
Sarah: I mentioned that briefly, but yes, I mean I am anticipating that our population growth is probably going to exceed projections, especially when you look at the temperate, you know, our temperate climate is going to persist relatively. We're going to continue to be blessed with abundant water relatively. And I hope at some point if we can get our act together on transportation a little bit cleaner air than we have now. And so the question is, what does it mean for us as a community to look at this? Again, I think we just have to keep looking at this as an opportunity. Fortunately, we do have Metro, the regional government, which integrates our land use and transportation planning. They should be taking the lead on this, with regard to population growth and making sure that we have a polycentric region. I'm not running for Metro, but at the city level, I think, again, it's that build out so that no matter where you end up in this city, you're not, the suburbanization of poverty is real here. Right? And so I don't want us to just have people who are in need or lacking resources concentrated in places. I want us to have diverse, vibrant, neighborhoods with a range of accessibility, a range of affordability so that we can then have neighborhoods that are diverse by design.
Greg: A lot of City of Portland community discussions are held at a time where working families and underserved, underrepresented individuals cannot attend. As the next mayor, what would your practices be to actively listen to your constituents?
Sarah: Maybe I should ask you to weigh in on this. Like what can I do for you Ciara?
Ciara: Well, I was sitting here thinking you're doing it right now. I mean just, but seriously your presence and making it a priority to show up for this group of people who are, you know, maybe not, like I said, contributing at the top level to campaigns or you know, paying taxes in the same way that full time employees are, you know, you showing up is huge and you being here at 7:00 PM on a Monday night is huge. And you know, a big problem that I hear even from people who are on the inside in these public agencies is, you know, everybody lives, everybody who is at the top, lives within a few blocks of each other, so they're not even thinking about transit out to the far East side or anything like that.
Ciara: And so, you know, your background and your willingness to listen, your willingness to go to other cities and see what's working elsewhere and not just think, Oh, we can solve it because we're Portland and we're amazing. Well, yeah, we're amazing. But, but I think all of us are, pretty open here. You know, as creative people tend to be really open to new ideas and new innovations, and we're first adopters and Portland should carry forth that value of being a first adopter of things that well, we'd be second adopters then, wouldn't we are things that have worked elsewhere and you've been around the world to look at what's working and what we could adopt here.
Sarah: Yes, I will definitely not be too proud to steal amazing ideas from all around the world, and I will do it rapidly. I am thinking that we need, you know, when I talk about polycentricity and to get out of my planner jargon, it's that notion that we don't just have a single town center, right? Something that Portland is built into our regional plan is the fact that we have multiple town centers connected by what are supposed to be frequent transit so that people can live perhaps in one place and work or go to school in another. And I'd actually like to see the gateway district become almost a second civic and innovation district for us where we have a lot more high density housing, civic buildings. I'll probably set up office out in East Portland at least a couple of days a week.
Sarah: So I'm thinking about moving some city bureau offices out there. I mean, we rent a lot of office spaces, City of Portland, and putting the city workers where the rents are cheap, like they're forcing everyone else to live is actually not a bad idea right? It might save us even a little bit of money, but what would it mean if some of our transportation planners and planning bureau experts and people from city bureaus were actually having to get around by the same transit system that the rest of us have to get around by. And certainly my office, I know that I will continue to ride my e-bike. I cannot speak for the rest of my staff, but I know that I will encourage us to move around the city by low carbon or non-carbon mobility as much as possible.
Ciara: I have to name drop for a second once I really was on the subway with Michael Bloomberg during his term as mayor of New York city. And his big thing was like I take the subway to work just like everyone else. And I was like, yeah, right. And let them like, I know you don't have to be here, but thanks. You know, with your, he had like five bodyguards surrounding him and I'm like, you guys are just taking up space on the train that is sorely needed. Sarah actually puts on the bike helmet and bikes around the city. You guys actually does it when she's not being, no photo shoots are happening. So I appreciate that very much.
Greg: And again we weren't able to get to every question but I did want to ask this last one. It's a little off topic but is particularly relevant given um, the shooting of uh, another individual by the Portland police yesterday. There's obviously troubling reports. We don't know everything now, but of course anybody in our community dying is a travesty, especially at the hands of the state. The question that I do have from somebody is your input on Jo Ann Hardesty's Portland response team. Is that a program you would stand behind? And then I would add to that, what policies would you support that might address this epidemic?
Sarah: I was looking as we sat down, I'm looking at my notebook here where in case I needed to take notes in the last event that I had this notebook out, it says community centered PPA contract. Um, I was at a round table sponsored by commissioner Hardesty and the mayor's office about what would it mean for us to have a more community centered contract. Um, there are some folks who advocate for that in this room. Unite Oregon and Portland's Resistance. If you want to get involved in shaping outcomes in the very, very short term, I encourage you to look at the police contract negotiations that are underway right now and weigh in, please, and please beg for accountability and community oversight and make sure that we're trying to get as much leverage for the community bargaining side of that agreement as we can because the police union side of that contract is very strong and I don't know that it's always in the best interest of Portlanders, especially our most vulnerable people.
Sarah: When it comes to Commissioner Hardesty's street response, I can actually pull that out because I think it reflects a management style that we need today in city government, which is much more efficient use of our resources to help our people in compassionate trauma informed human centered ways. What does it mean for us to not say that this is the policy and this is how we do things. This is policing and this is how it's always been done, but rather that this is what people in Portland are experiencing in our streets right now, whether it's traffic, violence, or police violence or homelessness and say these are the people who are suffering. Now everybody, it doesn't matter what bureau this is. It doesn't matter what background you are. We are going to come together and we're going to solve this problem using the resources that we have.
Sarah: And I believe that the street response program that Commissioner Hardesty and Street Roots, right? She was, this was led by frontline communities. So when the homeless community leads on the policies that affect the homeless most, that is when we have effective outcomes. That is when we have efficient use of resources. So when we're going to do that in public safety, it's going to matter. When we do that in active transportation, then we will have good outcomes. And you know what they're going to say? Better sidewalks, not freeway expansions. We don't want $500 million in a freeway expansion. We want sidewalks in East Portland, we want buses in East Portland is what they will say. I want to be able to walk to my bus so I don't die. And then what we're going to say is when we are having dozens of people dying, experiencing homelessness in our streets, when we are seeing people who are experiencing mental illness in our streets dying out in our streets, then it shouldn't be like, what is the protocol for that?
Sarah: It should be Portland. How are we going to solve this? Right? And so I think the more that we can fight to make those investments, and it's one reason I am running for mayor is because the mayor has a few responsibilities that the other commissioners don't. And one is the assignment of the budget and the other is assignment of the bureaus. And that means that I can align those bureaus and those budgets in strategic strategic ways. So we will get a street response even if the police union doesn't want it. We will make that happen for ourselves by aligning our resources to address the needs of the people on our streets. And I think that that kind of problem solving mode to take us a little bit back, it's kinda heavy, my heart is hurting with that death in the street yesterday, but to take us back to the topic here, which is economic development, inclusion, prosperity, that problem solving model, we've forgotten that the role of government largely is to fill the cracks where as individuals we can't always get things accomplished. So can we be empowering communities to lead? Can we be funding communities to develop their own economic development plans? How can we be building resiliency in communities by resourcing them first, not making them go through a bureau, but taking that risk and saying, fail bigger, fail harder, fail faster, and we're going to measure that and we're going to learn from that, and then we're going to move on and we're going to put those ideas upwards into our city as opposed to thinking our people are ignorant and need our help, right? Our people are brilliant. And what we need to do is empower them and resource them, whether it's helping address mental illness in our streets or building a really good neighborhood or starting an artists' community.
Greg: Thank you. Can I have a round of applause for our two speakers?
Announcer: You've been listening to a special edition of Our Portland with Sarah Iannarone, featuring a community conversation recorded on December 9th with Ciara Pressler from Pregame. If you have a question for Sarah, record a voice memo on your phone and email it to [email protected] or use the #OurPortland hashtag and send us a message on social media. If you appreciate a campaign with straight talk on issues that matter, consider signing up to be a monthly supporter of $5, $10, or even $35 between now and election day in May, 2020. Find out more at sarah2020.com. This has been a production of Friends of Sarah for Portland.