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Willamette Greenway path north of Steel Bridge closed “until further notice” – UPDATED

Posted by on January 26th, 2016 at 11:53 am

Willamette Greenway path closed

Property manager says nearby camp makes path access unsafe for residents
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

About one-third of a mile of the Willamette Greenway Trail between the Steel and Broadway Bridges is now closed and locked behind a gate with posted signs that read, “Greenway Closed: Detour to Naito Parkway.” This is not an official closure and it’s unclear whether the people who closed it have the legal right to do so.

I confirmed the closure this morning after receiving two tips yesterday from people who were concerned about it. The company that manages the McCormick Pier Condominiums, Community Management Inc., says the McCormick Pier Board of Directors decided at their meeting on January 18th to close the path because of what they refer to as “unsafe homeless activity under the Steel Bridge.” They say the path will be closed, “until further notice.”

Here’s the flyer they’ve posted in common area near the condo’s parking lot:

Willamette Greenway path closed

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Here’s the salient part of the notice:

“There has been an increased problem this past year with persons camping under the Steel Bridge and causing security, maintenance, health, and safety issues to McCormick Pier property and residents. The pictures [in the notice] show just a fraction of the damage at McCormick Pier. The police cannot respond the way the should be able to with the Mayors new “stand down” order for anything to do with the homeless or their dogs.

There is no one left to call and it is simply not safe.”

In a separate notice also posted by CMI, they say the closure was needed, “due to unsafe homeless activity under the Steel Bridge.” “We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause,” continues the notice, “however the Assocation is working hard to keep McCormick Pier as safe as possible during this unfortunate situation.”

In addition to urging people to contact Portland Mayor Charlie Hales’ office, CMI wants residents to send them documented incidents they’ve experienced or witnessed, “in order to present a united front to the appropriate authorities and ask that they take immediate action to remove the campsites and clean up the park.”

People have slept along the path just south of the McCormick Pier Condominiums at the western end of the Steel Bridge for many years. But in the past few months, a full-fledged camp has sprouted up. There are currently many people living on both sides of the path as it approaches the McCormick property.

Willamette Greenway path closed

The camp just south of McCormick Pier Condominiums looking east from NW Naito Parkway.
Willamette Greenway path closed

Looking south from the southern end of the McCormick property.
Willamette Greenway path closed

View from behind the locked gate toward the path with the camp and Naito Parkway in the background.

Michael Morrison rides this section of the path regularly. He contacted us via email yesterday and said he understands the concerns about the encampment but that decision to close it, “is not a very civil response.” “A more nuanced response is needed,” he added.

As we reported with a similar situation on the Springwater, Mayor Hales is no longer enforcing camping bans in Portland until there are enough places for everyone to live.

While the City of Portland maintains an easement in front of the McCormick Pier condos, the homeowners association took over official maintenance responsibilities in 2002. In 2010 they used that authority to close the trail to fix damage caused by erosion; but it’s unclear whether they have the right to close the path for something as vague as “unsafe homeless activity.”

What is clear from this closure is that CMI wants to use the closure to pressure the Mayor’s Office to do more to address the camp that’s sprung up just a few dozen feet from their property line. But their move might have crossed a line if they continue to prohibit access to a path the public has a legal right to use.

Many people ride this section of the path because the option is riding next to auto traffic on Naito. This path is also popular for walking and running.

Parks bureau spokesman Mark Ross confirmed for us this morning that the existing trail easement requires CMI to maintain public access from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm. He says Parks is currently inquiring with the Portland Police Bureau to find out if they advised CMI to close the path out of a concern for public safety. If that’s not the case, Parks will likely ask CMI to re-open the path immediately. Ross also said he’s not aware of any specific citizen complaints that have been made around this area.

We’ve contacted CMI for comment but have yet to hear back. We’ll update this post when we do.

UPDATE, 12:24 pm: Lisa Campbell with Community Management Inc. has gotten back to me. She said the McCormick Pier Board of Directors plans to keep the path closed, “Until the mayor pays attention and figures out what to do down there.” Campbell says she’s received about 20 complaints from condo owners in the past week. She said people have had cars broken into and one owner was “assaulted” when he confronted a man stealing a package off his porch.

I asked Campbell if she or any of the board members had tried to talk with the people who live in the camps. She said there has been some interactions, but most people are likely afraid because of how aggressive she says many of the campers have become. Campbell said the Oregon Department of Transportation was monitoring the area and cleaning it up from time-to-time but has recently stopped doing that because the area has become unsafe. “There are some aggressive people over there,” Campbell said, “You’re not going to just hang out with them.”

Campbell said they’d love to open the path, but until “the Board sees some action to clean this up and get some enforcement” they’ll keep it closed. So you’re holding the path hostage? I asked. “Yeah. Kind of,” she replied.

UPDATE, 1:25 pm: Just off the phone with Mayor Hales. He said he’s going to demand that McCormick Pier Condiminiums re-open the path immediately. “I want you to know that I’m not going to permit people to take public right-of-way hostage for political purposes… They just unilaterally occupied this public right-of-way.” Hales went on to share his recent actions to deal with the homeless and housing problems plaguing Portland which include 275 new shelter beds in the past three months and $67 million invested in affordable housing. “We’ve moved quickly to make a difference,” he said.

When I asked him specifically about the issue of homeless camps that are adjacent to transportation corridors like the Willamette Greenway and Springwater paths, he said his office is trying to get all city bureaus on the same page. “We understand that unmanaged homeless camps, unpoliced homeless camps can cause livability problems. That’s why we’re authorizing sweeps and clean-ups when necessary. No one should get the impression that they can just do whatever they want. However, in the short-run, while we’re moving to radically increase shelter space, there are going to be people camping outside. That’s a fact of life. We’re going to make sure that it’s done in a responsible way and where peoples’ safety is assured… both the safety of people in the neighborhood, people who pass through these transportation corridors, and the people in the camps.”

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Adam
Subscriber

The city should not allow a private developer to close the only safe bike route through downtown. This is absolutely unacceptable. Naito is a high-stress route and is not a suitable replacement for the riverfront path.

We need to address the homeless issue on all fronts, but we should not allow campers to shut down public spaces. That is not how an equitable city should operate. The city’s response to the homeless issue by “doing nothing” is completely unacceptable.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

the existing trail easement requires CMI to maintain public access from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm

Well, that says it all. The hobo encampment is getting big and the mess extends out onto Naito, but that doesn’t change who owns the property. (or easement, at least)

Paul Atkinson
Guest
Paul Atkinson

I took a new job early last year; since then I’ve ridden through this area every day. I’ve seen a notable rise, even in that time, in the number of people camped in that area.

These people aren’t living inside. They don’t have a regular place to bathe, to cook, or to stay warm when it’s cold out. This spot they’ve found is covered by bridges so it stays dry in the rain, though, and that’s huge for them.

In the year-ish I’ve ridden that way I’ve seen messy behavior, littering, and people occasionally crowding the path. I have not yet, in that time, seen a single incident I’d call dangerous or any people who have in any way made me feel unsafe.

Do you suppose Lisa Campbell is interested in hearing my experience? She’s solicited a call for problems, not for exonerations.

Terry D-M
Guest
Terry D-M

Unlike what is going on at the Springwater, this situation though dire and visually traumatizing has never felt unsafe to me.

It does show that this is a citywide problem. Some in the neighborhood coalition system have been working on a concept whereby there would be a public permit process for tent encampments citywide: An open process of zoning. We have zoning for street trees, parking automobiles and bike corrals but not for tent camps. It is time we make some so we can quickly create short term communities citywide. Hanzelnut Grove is a good model.

Then, once we bring the problem out of the darkness we will visually see its magnitude while we create a community wide long term solution to the housing crises.

daisy
Guest
daisy

Hey Jon and Michael: I appreciated the time you all took last week to talk to people living along the Springwater. I wonder if you might interview someone locally who is an advocate for homeless folks, to help us get the big picture of the problem and possible solutions. Oh, wouldn’t it be great if you could find someone who works on this issue locally and also bike commutes?

I know we’re getting a bit farther afield from cycling, but it does seem like the issue of homelessness is touching on everything else in Portland these days, and, in the big picture, this is related to development, infrastructure, cost of housing, and so on.

RH
Guest
RH

The issue I have is that other cities are busing their homeless to Portland. They offer the folks a free one way ticket and a “chance to start over” in a “compassionate” city. San Fran, San Diego, Florida, etc.. are all busing folks up here. I estimate there will be twice the number of homeless folks here this summer compared to last summer. And the city will continue to ‘stand down’ for at least 5 years since it will take them that long to get places for everyone to live.

rick
Guest
rick

Thank you Jonathan for speaking out for both the homeless and for active transportation.

Adam
Guest
Adam

I live a block from this path, and have to say I’m not surprised at this closure.

I try to be empathic towards people who have no access to permanent shelter. It must be a really demoralising position to be in.

But the conditions at this camp that the general public have to navigate through are HORRIFIC. It is incredibly sad to see my neighborhood deteriorate so quickly.

The tents and shopping carts often spillover onto the multi-use path. There is trash EVERYWHERE. And I mean everywhere.

I found three hyperdermic needles discarded in the middle of the sidewalk last week. That’s just great when yr biking yr six year old to school.

The stench of urine is overpowering some days.

There are rats everywhere at night.

The homeless camp doesn’t appear to give a hoot about any of this. It feels so disrespectful. And it makes me so sad.

Spiffy
Subscriber

it’s hilarious and sad that they think that fence will keep people out…

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

Rescind ALL TAX BREAKS and incentives given to this land owner.

Retroactively bill them for those back taxes INCLUDING late fees and penalties for those taxes not paid yet.

Until they return this PUBLIC land back to the public charge them full market value for every square foot of prime real estate they’ve commandeered like those other criminals.

If upon returning the land to public use they still want to mitigate abusive camping I suggest that they invest in quality lighting, video cameras and a sound system that plays the Lambchop’s Sing-a-Long theme song on a continuous 24/7 loop. It can actually be very quietly broadcast and still be an effective deterrent to sanity.

Random
Guest
Random

“As we reported with a similar situation on the Springwater, Mayor Hales is no longer enforcing camping bans in Portland until there are enough places for everyone to live.”

Sounds like Hales and the City of Portland are to blame here.

The private owner agreed to an easement for a bike trail, not an easement for a homeless camp.

Tomas La Palella
Guest
Tomas La Palella

We can’t have a clean or safe…let’s see: Springwater, Eastbank, Waterfront Park, North Park Blocks, 205 Path, Marine Drive, Forest Park, Washington Park, Powell Butte, Colonel Summers, etc etc etc.

What’s left? Not much.

Charlie Hales has openly invited people who choose a lifestyle of drugs, crime and squatting to take over our city. He’s practically begging them to come here and prey on our tolerance and progressive ideals.

I’m tired of it. I’m tired of picking up hypodermic needles cast into my yard, tired of being intimidated and chased out of public spaces that I support with my tax dollars and volunteer time. While Fritz pats herself in the back and Charlie desperately tries to pad out his do-nothing legacy, our quality of life is being severely affected.

I’m done feeling sorry for the people who are sucking us dry. It’s time for action. It’s time we made it clear that as Portlanders we deserve more than this. No more unregistered sex offenders living camps just a stone’s throw from our schools. No more shanty towns full of stolen bikes, stolen electronics and even stolen guns. No more open air meth, crack and heroin use on our greenways and commons!

It’s time we stand up and made our voices heard. Enough!

CR
Guest
CR

It’s worth considering how property owners will feel about requested easements for trails in the future.

Glenn
Guest
Glenn

I support the mayor in declaring a State of Emergency regarding homelessness in Portland, and feel that it was years overdue. Unfortunately, that State of Emergency has come without any sort of plan or communication. We’re seeing this play out over and over, whether on the Springwater Trail, Greeley, or now in this instance. Yes, we have an issue with housing and homelessness, Mayor Hales, and our homeless citizens deserve more. So do people who use parks and trails, and residents of neighborhoods who have seen crime rise as the result of a few bad apples in some of the camps. The complete lack of communication and involvement from the Mayor and City Council has only served to pit neighborhoods and groups like cyclists against the homeless. That isn’t fair to anyone, and quickly breaks down a community.

Apologies for the rant…..

John
Guest
John

This problem isn’t the management company’s fault and it’s not one they can solve on their own. I appreciate the gravity of the situation, but these people need to get off the streets. If the mayor wants to accommodate them in another way through some big action like converting a warehouse and providing adequate facilities and social help, that’s fine, but the rest of us shouldn’t have to put up with aggressive, territorial behavior and conditions akin to a developing nation. I want our public space back.

Kyle
Guest
Kyle

The condo owners can be held liable for anything that happens on their property. I doubt they really want to block the trail because it affects their access too.

While the vast majority of homeless people do not cause trouble, these camps sometimes do present real safety and sanitation problems while preventing trails from being used as they should. Frankly, I find riding on the streets highly preferable to riding through certain camps (including this one) late at night.

daisy
Guest
daisy

If you all want to share your concerns with Lisa and other folks at CMI (in a nice way, people!), here’s their contact information:
http://www.communitymgt.com/index.cfm/company/staff-directory/

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

This may also be an opportunity too…I would recommend that the City of Portland’s Traffic Engineer immediately initiate an emergency bikeway diversion by upgrading the existing bike lane on Naito to a protected bike lane by closing the on-street parking and adding a few jersey barriers at each intersection plus appropriate signage.

Even if the trail is only closed at night this section of Naito must be made safer so that bike riders that only feel safe on off street paths will feel safe enough to ride on the parallel bikeway.

The Portland PBAC can also weight in on this close and mitigation too. (Perhaps an emergency meeting needs to be called with the appropriate public notice?)

Tom
Guest
Tom

Does this mean we can randomly close roads to auto traffic just because a road is near a homeless camp? The closure is illegal. The solution is bolt cutters. Deal with the camp issue seperatly without putting commuters in danger. Cars are way more dangerous than the homeless.

Tom Hardy
Guest
Tom Hardy

The management company is worried about encampments like the one a few blocks away from them that was raided last night because the homeless brought out their guns in a dispute while blocking 19th under the Fremont bridge (Thurmond). This is also where bike chop shops come and go.
The management company merely wished to close off the path because there were major concerns of the homeless setting up shop on their pathway, since PPB would not respond on Public Park/Private land to homeless problems.

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

The condo complex managers did this to keep their residents safe, and their move is probably justified. There’s literally no one to call who won’t blow them off. Or should CMI wait until someone is stabbed on their property? A botched burglary? What are they supposed to do when the city mandates greenway easements but the same city refuses to do anything about criminal activity? Should they be like PBOT and wait for x deaths before acknowledging a problem?

Also, this morning, PPB seized several stolen guns from a homeless camp in NW. Were they also just trying to survive?

m
Guest
m

Does the easement require the city to maintain the property included in the easement?
Do the actions of the homeless constitute a public nuisance?
Can the property revoke and/or suspend the easement if the city fails to comply with the terms of the easement such as allowing a nuisance to persist?

estherc
Guest
estherc

My guess is that easement is for a pathway, not a trash dump or campsite. So if the citizens of Portland are misusing the easement I think they should allow it to be closed. Hopefully this will force the mayor’s hand and allow the police to do something about the illegal activity.

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

Perfect timing for “Gap Week,” and CMI can always cite Malheur as precedent. [/s]

Jim
Guest
Jim

Those that use the path are screaming personal liberty. Those that live there scream personal safety. Guess whose rights trump whose?

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

This recommendation that people just go talk to the campers, who are often violent, or mentally ill is eventually going to get someone hurt. It is understandable why people are frankly scared of some of the people in the tents especially the ones who are aggressive: http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2016/01/portland_police_locate_stolen.html#incart_river_home

Adam
Guest
Adam

I wonder whether any agencies have considered approaching the homeless camp problem not from a political angle, but rather from a public health angle?

The large quantity of trash, fences, urine, drug-use paraphernalia etc could constitute fly-tipping perhaps? I’m not sure.

But it is a huge public health hazard for sure, liability wise.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Anyone with a half decent bolt cutter would be able to reopen the path.

BeavertonRider
Guest
BeavertonRider

Oh, and notice Hales admonition of MPC for it’s political hostage taking… What a duplicitous position given that Hales refuses to enforce local ordinances prohibiting tent camps until “something can be done.”

Random
Guest
Random

“Just off the phone with Mayor Hales. He said he’s going to demand that McCormick Pier Condiminiums re-open the path immediately. “I want you to know that I’m not going to permit people to take public right-of-way hostage for political purposes… They just unilaterally occupied this public right-of-way.”

LOL. This is going to be fun to watch.

If I were the condo association, I’d send Hales a polite letter asking him to guarantee that the Portland Police will enforce the camping ban on condo association property when informed of illegal camping.

I’d also ask the City of Portland to indemnify the condo association against any liability caused by people camping on condo association property.

If the City of Portland won’t take action to stop camping on the condo association’s private property, I’d invite them to see them in court, where the City can explain why they’ve stopped enforcing the law.

Steve B.
Guest
Steve B.

Major kudos to Mayor Hales for standing up for folks living outside. I’m really impressed with his stride as of late.

RH
Guest
RH

Keep the path closed. This homeless issue needs to be fixed. Bring down the news cameras, the protests. The citizens of Portland are completely frustrated with their City Council.

Champs
Guest
Champs

Two nights ago, we were riding on the upper deck of the Steel Bridge. A TriMet cop approached from behind and barked at us that “there’s a bike path down there for a reason.”

Sadly that doesn’t seem to be what it’s used for. This cop knows why we were there. There is no traffic on Sunday night at 9:30. The patrol car had no flashing lights or sirens. There’s simply no evidence that an emergency was being responded to; not above, not below.

nuovorecord
Guest
nuovorecord

If I owned a condo in McCormick Pier, I’d be madder than hell about this. It’s one thing for homeless camps to be set up in public parks or under bridges; quite another for them to be on easements. The easement allows people to pass through, it’s not meant for the purposes the homeless are using it for. Being homeless doesn’t mean you get to be a criminal and inconsiderate of others.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

My proposal to fixing the situation on the Springwater is to build a gate across the path and lock it.

Carter Kennedy
Guest
Carter Kennedy

That route is narrow, twisty, and slow if you want to be the least bit courteous to pedestrians and residents. It does provide a nice view of the river. It is a scenic ride and walk. If you actually want to get somewhere, you use Naito.

scott
Guest
scott

This will certainly fix the homeless problem.

redhippie
Guest
redhippie

Just yet another example of where our city’s famous livability has been hijacked by homeless advocates

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

This sucks, but I do have some sympathy for the condo association. Their property is being turned into a homeless camp, the city isn’t doing enough to control trash or aggressive behavior, and locking the gate is probably the most effective way for them to get the city to do the cleanup and sweeps and patrols that it isn’t doing.

Allowing homeless people to camp wherever they choose is simply not working.

Alison Fulmer
Guest
Alison Fulmer

I would rather go ride on Naito in the traffic than try to ride through the filth of this encampment. I do not blame the condo owners at all for locking the gate, they are being vandalized. They are afraid and to be honest so am I. A train came as I apporached the tracks northbound at that gate recently and I was afraid to wait there, I turned around and backtracked. I happen to be female and women put up with enough grief cycling without having to be afraid. I came upon the stretch from 82nd to 92nd on the Springwater three weeks ago and was afraid. No matter what all the background stories are for the homeless some if not most involve drugs and violence. Women are afraid to ride the Springwater at night as well for this reason. Yes, I feel badly people are resorting to living outisde but if they are the city needs a set place them to camp now. The mayor needs to step up to the plate and start to do something.

Mike Sanders
Guest
Mike Sanders

The condo folks say that the trail stays closed until the Mayor & city council gets off their rear ends and do something about it. What can they do if they are being bussed in from as far away as Miami? If that indeed what’s going on, then one wonders why those other places are sending them here in the first place. Renenber, Hales isn’t running for another term. If he was, this situation might be blowing his chances for another term. Sending people from other places here just to “solve” a problem elsewhere just makes the situation worse at both ends. That’s something to check into, pronto.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

I rolled through there this evening and saw the locked gate. It isn’t the gate I assumed it was. Anyhow, here’s what the camps look like. There are many more than six months ago, but they are relatively clean from this point of view.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rfpWKaf81c

Charles McCarthy
Guest
Charles McCarthy

50 or 60 years ago, Chicago was giving one-way bus tickets to Minneapolis for anyone on the welfare rolls.
Dumping your problems on someone else has a long history.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

“There is no one left to call and it is simply not safe.”

I think that sums it up neatly.

Brad
Guest
Brad

I walked the riverfront tonight and was irritated to find that section closed. The city needs to send someone down there with bolt cutters and reopen those gates.

JeffL
Guest
JeffL

It kind of blows when my travel path gets blocked up like this. Also trying to walk up and down the stairs on that bridge is blocked by people living on them.

Slightly relatedly, this kind of reminded me of the time I tried to walk the Morrison Bridge and found out that heroine addicts camp on the walkway underneath it and also defecate there.

rickrill
Guest
rickrill

Wow, those are some interesting photos of the scene.
Typically in the months past, this area has been overflowing with homeless randoms’ possessions, tarp forts, plastic tubs of sewage and plenty of trash strewn about. The sidewalk was packed full!
And the smell was pretty foul as well.
I was stopped a few times by these occupiers and surrounded while they tried to convince me that they’d be happy to take my bike off my hands.
Fun times.
I think they were just playin tho, since it was during rush hour with lots of witnesses.
I find it unfortunate that the city, and that includes you, Hales, are supportive of allowing these “unfortunates” to co-opt public right of way on Naito, Waterfront and Springwater away from us, the tax-paying citizens.
Summer along is gonna be something to witness, amirite???
A localized version of Burning Man, if we are lucky.

longgone
Guest
longgone

So, what is the status today? It is now Wednesday, are the gates still locked? I would be happy to change that on my way to work!