Candidate Spotlight: Julia DeGraw

Candidate Spotlight: Julia DeGraw

Running for Portland City Commissioner, Position No. 2

Thank you to Julia DeGraw for attending our March 5th Candidate Conversation for Candidates for Portland City Commissioner. Don’t miss candidates for Portland City Mayor on March 31st, 2020! This event has been cancelled due to health concerns. We are working on a virtual solution to connect you with your candidates for Portland City Mayor.

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Answers to Neighborhood Questions:

1. Homelessness is a crisis in all of Portland, but has disproportionately negative effects in SE and East Portland. Explain how you will address this situation in a compassionate and expedient manner, balancing the needs of both the housed and houseless.

Candidate Answer: Housing is a human right, and houselessness is a crisis in Portland. For far too long, our elected leaders have failed to plan for or address the problem, which is symptomatic of the systemic problems of our at-large Commission form of government. That is why I support a community-led process to transition to electing City Councilors from districts across the city. These City Councilors would focus more on legislating and constituent services than they do now, leading to better long-term planning and policies that benefit all of Portland’s communities. 

That said, while we are in the mid- to long-term process of building the housing and providing the services needed for the chronically unhoused, we must do better at addressing the immediate needs of those living without shelter in our city. Finding public or private properties where we can temporarily provide shelters, sanitation services, security, and health services would be a better and less expensive stopgap measure than our current policy of sweeps or leaving people to fend for themselves on the streets. 

We must decriminalize houselessness. I want to tackle the housing crisis by exploring all innovative options, such as building affordable modular housing at-scale, incentivizing co-living, and increasing renter protections. Other cities like Salt Lake City and New Orleans have come up with great solutions, and I think we should follow their lead. We need more of all types of housing (except luxury), and it is time that we start treating this issue like the crisis that it is.

2. With the implementation of the Residential Infill Project, there will be a lot of new development in areas with larger lots like SE and East Portland. How will you create opportunities for and encourage the development of affordable and accessible housing, while also guarding against displacement and gentrification?

Candidate Answer: I believe that those closest to an issue are also closest to the solution, so it is essential that we create community-led processes to minimize unintended consequences, such as housing displacement. I support ending single-family zoning to create livable and walkable neighborhoods that create a strong sense of community, enhance the local economy, and reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Developments such as four- and eight-plexes built using innovative modular housing techniques could lead to genuinely affordable housing at market-rates––because cost to build these units is 

lower. We can increase density this way, while maintaining the same general structure and character of existing neighborhoods. Whether we want it to or not, Portland is growing and changing, so it is important that we try to guide this evolution, and that means keeping the character of our city where possible. We need to make sure that the RIP avoids gentrification. I want to see an economic impact forecast and an economic report once we’re a year or two into the RIP to see if it is leading to displacement and gentrification, and then to revisit how its being implemented if it’s not succeeding in providing accessible and affordable housing.

3. SE and East Portland have by far the greatest number of unimproved roads in all of Portland. Brentwood-Darlington alone has over 4 miles. How will you rectify this infrastructure imbalance without cost-burdening an already historically underserved area?

Candidate Answer: As a resident of East Portland (and a current resident of Montavilla), I am intimately aware of the deplorable state of roads, lack of sidewalks and street lights in parts of Portland and the inequitable distribution of resources that has led to this problem and allowed it to persist. My top priority is to replace the at-large Commission system with a districted City Council that would inherently result in greater representation for all parts of the city, making it so that issues like inadequate roads in East Portland could no longer be ignored by City Hall. 

As a general rule, I would implement policies that require community-led decision-making so that we end up with solutions that better serve the people of this city and minimize unintended consequences. I am committed to exploring new revenue streams as well as reprioritizing the existing budget, to fund improving neighborhood roads and sidewalks in Southeast Portland that does NOT require low-income residents to foot the bill.

4. Portland Bureau of Transportation has been installing many traffic calming measures and lowering speed limits all over SE and East Portland. How will you provide the means to enforce these new measures, despite staffing level challenges?

Candidate Answer: Most importantly, I would try to bring staffing levels up to what they need to be. We need to rework our budget priorities so more funding is available for staffing, not just big capital projects. 

I fully support measures to reduce traffic accidents and improve road safety, and enforcement is essential to achieving these goals. I appreciate PBOT’s efforts so far, including its public awareness campaigns on roads that have a particularly high rate of accidents, but it is troubling that, despite these efforts, traffic fatalities were up in 2019 over prior years. I want to dramatically expand the public transit system and increase ridership on it, which is not only good for road safety by taking cars off the road, but it also improves traffic and is essential to achieving our climate goals. 

I strongly support re-jurisdiction of 82nd Ave. and transforming it into a city street rather than a highway. Moving forward, as funding comes along for projects to improve roads, we need to 

focus on making thoroughfares that are designed for multi-modal use, that are aesthetically beautiful, safe for pedestrians and cyclists, full of reliable safe transit, and not designed primarily for cars.

5. Garbage and graffiti are ongoing issues in SE and East Portland. What will you do to take the burden of neighborhood clean-up off the shoulders of volunteers?

Candidate Answer: The City, Multnomah County, and Metro should coordinate better to ensure garbage and sanitation services are provided to folks who are unhoused. Most of our trash issues are associated with the houselessness crisis, and it’s largely because there’s currently no reliable way for people who are living without shelter to dispose of their waste. 

Another option to explore: other cities like Portland, Maine have hired people who are struggling with housing to clean up trash. This isn’t exactly career-training, but it gives them work, some money in their pocket, and it’s improving their neighborhoods. 

If we are going to have volunteers doing these cleanups, they need to be organized and fully supported by the City through clean-up days that are festive and that center community-building. The City has done a good job with its “Green Streets” program by partnering with and offering resources to local businesses and charities that clean litter off the streets, and I’d expand that program. 

Long-term, we have to address poverty issues because graffiti and garbage are symptomatic of poverty. Once we get to these root causes there should be a reduction in graffiti and trash on our streets.

6. In several areas of SE, illegal activity occurs on a daily basis, often for years at a time. Neighbors continuously report this activity, only to be told that the individual is, in short, not worth arresting. Many of these individuals have had multiple contacts with the police. How will you address the revolving door in Portland’s criminal justice system that allows these chronic conditions to continue?

Candidate Answer: I believe that petty crime is an outcome of poverty, and in a country that has the highest incarceration rate in the world, I’m not sure that arresting these individuals is going to solve our problems. We need to do better at making sure that all Portland residents are getting their basic needs met. The solutions to this problem must be systemic: we need to provide good-paying jobs for all Portlanders, adequate housing with wrap-around assistance for those who need it, universal pre-school that gives kids a stronger shot at life, and we should create a restorative justice program that helps rehabilitate people who have committed petty crimes, rather than taking punitive measures against them. I also support Commissioner Hardesty’s Street Response as an effective approach to reduce these kinds of petty crimes.

7. Much of the Public transportation in SE and East Portland is infrequent and does not serve large swaths of the area. This creates an imbalance in which our neighbors are forced to drive more and pay a larger portion of the associated costs and taxes. Even neighbors who prefer to take transit, can only do so in certain directions and often not on the weekend. How will you work to rectify the imbalance in transit access in our area?

Candidate Answer: This is an issue I personally experience as a resident of East Portland. Similar to the theme of my other answers, I believe that this issue is indicative of the systemic injustices in our at-large form of city government. I want to work with neighboring municipalities to double the capacity of public transit in Portland so that it is convenient and people actually want to take it instead of driving, and I want to make public transit free for all riders under 18. This expansion must be prioritized in East Portland first, where we need more North/South lines and more regular service. I am also committed to engaging underserved communities when creating public policies, and I believe that doing so with transit-issues is particularly important.