The Portland Parks & Recreation bureau is bracing for budget cuts that could have a significant impact to marquee paths citywide.
The City Budget Office has recommended a reduction of $2.1 million from the Parks budget. “This level of cuts,” the Bureau said in a blog post last month, “will significantly impact our programs.”
There are two line items in the budget advocates are focusing on: One of them would slash funding for path maintenance; the other would offer a much-needed boost for the beloved Eastbank Esplanade.
Key budget process dates
- April 30th: Mayor releases budget
- May 10th: Public hearing at City Hall
- May 16th: Council action to adopt budget (after more public testimony)
Completed in 2001, the Esplanade is nearing its 20th birthday. The path is a crucial part of the bike network as it provides the safest — and in some cases, most direct — north-south access between the Lloyd Center and the Central Eastside. Parks has requested $500,000 in “one-time” funding from the General Fund and an additional yearly boost of $250,000. Not only do the aging structures need continued scheduled maintenance, but Parks says the impact of illegal camping sites along the path have diverted existing funds from other uses.
Here’s the salient snip from the budget (from Package (PK) 32 on page 32):
Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade Maintenance Reboot – $500,000 General Fund One-Time and $250,000 General Fund Ongoing Addition
For the past few years, there have been an increasing number of homeless camps and illegal structures, as well as more debris piling up in various locations along the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade. Increased traffic along the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade has required maintenance crews to devote more time than usual removing materials from numerous camp sites along the riverbank (Steel Bridge to Hawthorne Bridge), and as a result, neglecting basic park maintenance responsibilities such as horticulture.
One-time funding is requested to fund specific work on maintenance needed on the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade. The work would include General Fund one-time support for limited-term staff, installing vandal-proof lighting, staff support to improve landscaping, irrigation, deteriorating walkways, and overall degradation of facilities. Ongoing funding is requested for two Ranger positions to patrol the area and help to reduce vandalism and homelessness activity, and staff to support increased cleanup and maintenance.
Expected Results: The Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade is one the most utilized trails in PP&R’s system. Recent trail counts indicated over 400 users per hour near the Burnside Bridge crossing. This proposal could have significant impact for improving users’ experience as well as an investment towards reducing long-term maintenance needs.
The other item in the budget we’re following is PK 19, the “Regional Trails Service Reduction.” This item would take $52,000 out of the annual Parks budget that’s currently used to do standard upkeep and maintenance on all of our regional paths. Here are the details from the budget:
PK 19 Regional Trails Service Reduction – ($52,000) Ongoing Reduction
This reduction package reduces park maintenance services for all the regional trails:
Columbia Slough Trail
Willamette Greenway Trail
Waud Bluff Trail
Peninsula Crossing Trail
Specific reductions and elimination of service include:
Closing the parking lot and trailhead restroom at SE 45th/Johnson Creek Boulevard (Springwater)
Reducing maintenance activities (litter pick-up), sign replacements and repairs, vegetation pruning and general inspection from four times per month to 1-2 times per month.
Reducing repairs of damaged pavement surfaces
Eliminating garbage cans along regional trails and in all natural areas
Reduction in reporting and cleaning homeless camps
Parks says the latest user counts (from Metro) taken in September 2017 show that there are over 30,000 people who walk and roll on these paths. “The regional trails system has been impacted significantly by Portland’s increasing homeless population,” they state in their budget. “This proposal would further limit our ability to maintain the regional trails system and respond to impacts from campers.”
The good news is we still have a chance to influence the budget. Bureaus have already submitted their budgets and now Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Council members are hearing from the public at a series of hearings. Between now and April 30th, Wheeler will draft his budget. May 10th has been set as a public hearing in City Hall.
If you rely on these paths and want to keep them safe and smooth, please speak up about these budget items. Use the City Budget Office online comment form and send an email to Mayor Wheeler via his website.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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Hi Jonathon, the link for the CBO Online Form is incorrect and goes to the budget FYI. Thanks for the coverage on this! I plan to fill out the form and email Wheeler
Thanks Eric. I fixed the link. And thanks for contacting Wheeler. We need to send the message that keeping these paths — which are key transportation corridors that should not even be managed as “parks” in the first place (don’t get me started) — are not “nice to haves”.
They should be moved out of Parks, whose current assigned commissioner wants to “get at” people who bike, and into PBOT where they belong.
And the cop-out from Parks that blames houseless people is distressing to say the least.
Have you ever ridden along a multi-use path in Portland?
But it’s the truth. Distressing is avoiding feces and needles on the paths. Distressing is wondering if someone is going to jump out of the bushes and clothesline you off your bike. Distressing is basically giving up on using some of these MUPS because we’ve allowed them to be over run with lawlessness.
Whatever you think about homeless campers, there’s no question they are expensive for the cities they live in.
It’s not like they have impacts or anything.
Why would you want to move any infrastructure to PBOT? They have even less money than Parks for what they need to maintain – their maintenance backlog is already around $1 Billion. Move them to bureaus that have money, like Water or BES – if they need more money, they simply raise water or sewer rates, not having to bother with things like voters, property tax compression, and raising gas taxes.
I would love to volunteer to help regularly clean up along the Springwater or Eastbank Esplanade. However, I assume the parks bureau actually has limited authority to access the land around these paths to remove trash because they don’t actually own it. As a result, I suspect there is substantial liability the city is unwilling to take on to have a bunch of volunteers cleaning up there. As a result, the park bureau is left to do it on their own and they dosn’t have the budget or ability to keep up with routine maintenance.
In a better world we could have volunteers help with mundane cleaning and maintenance and leave the more involved and highly-skilled maintenance to the paid employees.
I just moved to Sellwood and work downtown so I’m on the Springwater all the time now and have thought the same thing, however the possibility of getting jabbed with a dirty needle is terrifying.
You don’t want to injure yourself or have a run-in with someone, but there’s a long tradition of volunteers picking up trash in publicly-owned places. I don’t know of any impediment to doing so, legal or otherwise. Maybe check out the experts…
Lets see if I have this right. We ( city, state and federal government) are planning to spend several Billion dollars to widen I5 near the Rose Quarter for little or no benefit but we can’t find $50,000 to maintain pathways that carry thousands of people without the benefit of fossil fuels, climate damaging emissions or congestion. If we step back and look at the big picture, we are really not going in the right direction here.
Rounding up, “only” a half billion. Play fair. That is still a lot of dimes.
Several billion dollars? Hyperbole much?
I’ll wait for the tally of the invoices before I criticize the rounding “error”. If past experience is any indication, rounding an early estimate of $0.5 billion to several billion dollars may not be off by much.
Bingo! Are we heading down the path (sorry) of becoming the next Wisconsin?
That money would go a lot further widening the bridge.
Portland is experiencing record population growth, low unemployment, and a thriving economy, yet budget *cuts* are all I hear about. PERS is killing us. (Full disclosure: I am a public employee myself).
Front page of the Sunday New York times even got into our PERS dilemma.
We also have no sales tax.
Unless ya buy a bike!
we don’t need a sales tax, we need a corporation tax!!!!
We really need both.
Hear, hear, K Taylor!
I find it odd that any public agency would still be using the term “homeless”… it’s obvious that these people have a home along the path…
I believe per UN definition even tents, semi permanent structures, motels, etc… would fall under secondary homelessness if the occupants list “no usual address” on a census.
“previously domiciled individuals”? Regardless of what words you use, it doesn’t change the reality.
it’s not as if they could close those paths… if they did they would become Hoovervilles that suck the life from the city… the only reason they’re still as clean as they are is because people continue to use them for their intended purpose and that keeps the campers at bay…
Increased traffic along the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade has required maintenance crews to devote more time than usual removing materials from numerous camp sites along the riverbank (Steel Bridge to Hawthorne Bridge), and as a result, neglecting basic park maintenance responsibilities such as horticulture.
Is “removing materials from numerous camp sites along the riverbank” code for ‘picking up trash’?
Well, it’s more than picking up candy bar wrappers. There are often pallets, furniture, various types of tent structures, etc. Just take a look at the structures at the beginning of the Springwater near OMSI across from the cement plant.
How’d they all get there?
I don’t mind the tents as much as all of the trash strewn everywhere. I was taught to, you know, throw trash in the garbage, not on the ground. Maybe we need to pay for a CCC-like group to roam around the camps and clean up.
…or enforce an “out you go if you trash the place” policy. We do have laws against littering already, though–don’t we? There’s nothing stopping someone who can set up a tent from being able to pick up their own garbage.
I see where Portland is failing to collect millions of dollars in business taxes already owed and years past due. Maybe this is one reason for budget cuts?
Just more of the same from Portland and the Vacuum of Leadership and common sense (statewide).
Threatening to cut well loved and high visibility projects in times of budget cuts is a common tactic used by the government or bureau heads to get the taxpayers to accept more taxes in the future. There would be no headlines or outcry if the county was to say they were going to cut methadone services so the county typically says they are going to cut hours at libraries or something similar to that. Then low and behold the next year the citizens pass a special property tax assessment that restores library hours. This allows the county (or city) to spend the money that they would have spend on libraries (or other well liked program) on some less popular program. There is ultimately a finite amount of tax money that the government can spend so it really is a zero sum game. More money spent on homeless services or libraries means less money spent elsewhere.
The Esplanade is the new Buckman Pool?
“Threatening to cut well loved and high visibility projects in times of budget cuts is a common tactic used by the government or bureau heads to get the taxpayers to accept more taxes in the future.” This. It’s been going on here forever, see: Randy Leonard with fire engines and more recently the Police Horses. Cut (or threaten to) popular stuff but keep pet projects that wouldn’t be helpful for a referendum.
I’m confused. Is all of the money collected in the excise tax just being used to administer the tax itself? Also, I just read an article in the Oregonian written by Michael Anderson that says we have a ton of transportation budget money right now.
The new bike tax goes to a specific, state-controlled pot of money called Connect Oregon. It will most likely be spent on new pieces of paths around the state. Highly unlikely it would ever fund the Esplanade or maintenance on any of our regional paths.
And keep in mind this is about the Parks Bureau budget. The Transportation Bureau doesn’t have jurisdiction over these paths – they are owned/managed/paid for by the Parks Bureau.
Eliminating garbage cans and the much-needed restroom at Johnson Creek would be a big disappointment.
Jonathan – how does Parks handle PIR maintenance in this year’s budget proposal? Perhaps its time to depave/ sell off PIR?
Pir is a cash cow and completely self supporting.
So disappointing to see “walk your bike” signs where roots have made the Greenway Path unsafe (e.g., south of the Old Spaghetti Factory). It’s a MUP. Many people on bikes don’t see the signs, and the signs don’t help at all for elders walking or people using mobility devices. What about the badly-lifted panels on the waterfront south of downtown that years ago were painted red and ignored? Parks has a duty to maintain at a basic level of public safety. I’d love to see a response from Commissioner Fritz or her staff so that we can know Parks is going to fix the basic safety problems (and isn’t holding MUPs hostage to gain support for their next bond levy, as others have suggested).
Scott, I could very well be wrong, but I believe that the portion of the Willamette Greenway trail you mention is a public easement, and the trail is maintenance responsibility of the adjoining landowners. I have complained to Parks about the condition of the trail in the past, and while it has been awhile & I can’t point to anything in writing, I was left with this impression. So, it would be a matter of putting the property owner(s) on notice, something that I think Parks is loathe to do.
Thank you for this article and information. I live in the Belmont Dist. and often bike east to I-205, south to the Springwater through Sellwood and then north up the Esplanade to my office on the Emanual Health campus. On rainy days I may take a more direct route, but always benefit from street bikeways, etc. I have never seen no one else biking, and generally see many other cyclists, despite the weather.
I am 62 so in addition to knowing that so many people in Portland appreciate safe, green, transportation routes there are also many others – like myself – who cycle, walk, stroll or jog for health and recreation. For me it is all three at once. Portland has invested in developing this amazing, off road, public transportation and recreation system. Indeed we need to keep investing in it maintenance and expansion.
If it was a road or a bridge in the metro area, it would have been updated, fixed and rehabbed….6 months ago.