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New business voice finds strength, maintains focus on housing and transportation

Posted by on August 2nd, 2017 at 12:26 pm

Speakers at the event included (clockwise): Former Street Roots Editor Israel Bayer, Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, Speaker of the Oregon House Tina Kotek, and House Rep. Karin Power.
(Photos by

There’s a new voice for businesses in Portland and they are focused on two issues that could make or break the future of cycling in our city. As we just reported with the City of Portland’s proposal to lower its bike mode share goals due what their analysis tells them is a lack homes in proximity to jobs, the issues of affordable housing and cycling are closely intertwined.

A business lobby group could help bend this trend in a different direction; but only if it wants a future with housing for everyone and more people on bikes.

The rooftop crowd.

The Portland Business Alliance has fallen out-of-touch with our city’s values and their influence is on the wane. Never before has this been more apparent than their recent gambit on the Better Naito project — an ill-advised letter-writing campaign that backfired royally. Instead of ginning up anger at the project as they intended, the campaign resulted in a flood of support to city hall. (A staffer with PBOT Commissioner Dan Saltzman’s office told us that, 48 hours after it launched, the PBA’s campaign resulted in 509 emails in support of Better Naito and just 110 against it. Oops.)

Which brings me to that new voice.

Business for a Better Portland held their first social mixer for members on Monday at the rooftop bar of Revolution Hall in southeast Portland. It was a packed house full of our city’s most talented entrepreneuers and business movers-and-shakers. They’ve come a long way since their launch in January 2016 when they were named PICOC, short for Portland Independent Chamber of Commerce.


As a paying member of the group (at the $200 per year “Builder” level, their lowest tier), I attended the event to meet other business owners and hear what they had to say.

“We we want to play offense. We want to see solutions. We want to see the ball moved down the field.”
— Mara Zepeda, Business for a Better Portland

The speaker list gave me a clue: Oregon State Rep Karin Power (D-Milwaukie), whose key issue is housing and tenant rights; Dan Saltzman, city commissioner of transportation; and Israel Bayer, former editor of Street Roots. (Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek spoke before the main event to higher-paying members.)

Mara Zepeda, a whip-smart and accomplished yet likably humble serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Business for a Better Portland, was the emcee.

She told the large crowd that the group was formed by people with roots in the tech sector who saw a wave of change happening and didn’t feel represented by the existing “business community”. Zepeda explained that the driving principle for the group’s creation was that, “We didn’t want to create San Francisco again… We didn’t want to makes the mistakes San Francisco made, wanted to keep The Bay at bay.”

To stymie the wave of new money and the changes it brings, a group must wield political power. When she introduced State Rep. Karin Power, Zepeda said, “We we want to play offense. We want to see solutions. We want to see the ball moved down the field.”

Power shared how she and her family were priced out of southeast Portland due to rising rents — despite the fact that she and her partner have college degrees and work full-time.

Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman also mentioned housing issues — and how they intersect with transportation reform. “As we grow denser and grow up not out, things like parking minimums for new development become issues,” he said. “We also know that as this city grows it’s more important to make sure all of our streets are safe for not only motorists, but pedestrians and bicyclists as well. That’s why we have a Vision Zero plan to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious crashes by 2025.”

And Street Roots’ Israel Bayer issued the kind of activism-infused call-to-action that has been the hallmark of this young organization. “The future of this organization plays a very critical role at the crossroads of the future of our city,” he said. “We’re in a time of great political divide. Our city is divided over homelessness, our country is divided over politics, and it will take all of us to be able to rise above the noise to be able to move in the same direction to bring change to the people.”

Whether or not that change involves the kind of transportation reforms many of us want depends on who shows up and makes their voice heard.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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David Hampsten
David Hampsten

You say there was talk about “transportation reform”, but did anyone offer specifics?


“To stymie the wave of new money and the changes it brings”

I am delighted to hear this part articulated, but what about the other half of the equation?
If we don’t problematize growth we’re just whistling in the wind. You can’t celebrate growth (in population, in consumption, in housing, in jobs, in building permits, in tax receipts, in…..) without coming up against hard limits. To ignore growth worship in our society is to just kick the can of reckoning further down the road.


We really do need to break the cycle. We continue to create these cities that become so ridiculously dysfunctional that so many flee, only to then turn that city into a mirror image of what didn’t work.


I get it, that to be effective a group like this needs money and power. But it slightly disturbs me that this early on they are dividing the higher payers from lower payers in terms of who has access, ( Tina Kotek Speech). If they are not careful, going down the road of ,more money equals more “speech” and more access we could recreate the PBA all over again. I applaud the alternative to the hidebound PBA and hope they can create and keep a populist and progressive agenda in the face of money needs.


“the City of Portland’s proposal to lower its bike mode share goals due to a lack [of] homes in proximity to jobs”

repeating the city’s spin does not necessarily make it true. also, there is a typo.


I am very disappointed that I cannot afford to buy a 3 bedroom house in Beverly Hills, CA where I want to live! I have a college degree and work full time. I should be able to buy a house anywhere I feel like it.
I my opinion we should let the market work things out. Every time that things like rent control or other well meaning laws are passed the problem does not improve. NY and San Francisco have had rent control for decades and it has not help make things affordable. It is basic supply and demand. When people really want to live somewhere and there is finite amounts of land the cost to live there goes up. It is a much better problem than what happened in Detroit or Cleveland where everyone left.