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Guest Opinion: I’m Steve Novick and I endorse Andrea Valderrama for Portland City Council


Former Commissioner Steve Novick at a 2016 event and Andrea Valderrama at a candidate forum earlier this month.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus)

Steve Novick was a Portland City Commissioner from 2013 to 2017.

After having the pleasure of having her serve on my staff for nearly four years as city commissioner, today I’m writing to the readers of BikePortland.org to explain my support and endorsement for Andrea Valderrama for the Portland City Council race. Quite simply, my experience of working with her has left me convinced she is the candidate you should vote for if you’re interested in improvements to the safety and livability of our streets, our region’s ongoing housing crisis, and how these issues relate to climate change, public health and equity.

This is a candidate who has spent time in the trenches, can speak the alphabet soup of acronyms and jargon, and fundamentally understands the imperative to reconfigure our streets for better outcomes.

As you may recall, I spent three-and-a-half years as Transportation Commissioner, and was proud of my pro-bike record. I think Andrea’s skillset and background uniquely match up with the requirements of the job, not to mention the specific challenges Portland faces – and that for bike advocates, as well as other champions of truth and justice, she is the best choice.

As I wrote in Willamette Week last year, Portland’s unique Commission form of government creates some perverse incentives for politicians and bureaus that stymie genuinely thoughtful attempts to improve the provision of municipal services. I suspect many of you reading this blog are somewhat familiar with the learning process I underwent as PBOT and I fought for more funding to address thirty years of deferred road maintenance, greater investment in safe routes to schools, and investments in sidewalks in East Portland. As my “liaison to East Portland,” Andrea played a key role in ensuring that I heard from the right people and pushed the East Portland priorities that citizen activists had been working on for years.

I’m proud of our accomplishments (launching Biketown, passing the gas tax and a Vision Zero resolution among them). But traffic fatalities continue to rise, congestion’s getting worse, and we still have plenty of potholes to fill.

On a five-person city council, where each Commissioner is directly accountable to specific public, private and nonprofit sector constituents related to their bureau, the art of “getting to three” can be difficult, particularly if your initiative entails upending the status quo and moving more power to historically disenfranchised groups like tenants, working class folks, and/or east Portlanders. There is always a strong constituency for the status quo, but I believe the Commission form of government makes that worse: Commissioners primarily concerned about “their” bureaus aren’t willing to take risks on behalf of “someone else’s bureau.”

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My experience colors my understanding of the sort of competent, policy-wonk, justice-minded, results-driven leadership that is necessary to be successful. It’s easy enough to serve up platitudes and bromides about the extent to which a candidate would be a “champion” for housing affordability, a ‘transportation system that serves everyone,’ police accountability, equality and justice. But it takes wisdom, guts and an understanding of nuance to win those three votes – let alone build a strong, broad coalition for anything that needs to go to the voters.

Time and again she has proven herself more than capable, and wise beyond her years at navigating bureaucracies, community advocates, and policy wonkery.

Fortunately, anyone that’s worked with her can tell you: Andrea has the wisdom, has the guts, and understands the nuances. If you read her responses to the questions posed at last month’s transportation forum, it’s evident this is a candidate who has spent time in the trenches of these conversations, can speak the alphabet soup of acronyms and jargon among the best of them, and fundamentally understands not only the imperative to reconfigure our streets for better outcomes, but also the ways and means do so.

Andrea worked with me to craft the deal we made with TriMet to improve sidewalks and crosswalks on or adjacent to 122nd Avenue, and TriMet agreed to improve service on that route. This sort of governing work is unsexy, arduous, and rarely appreciated. We had to engage and negotiate with a separate governmental entity, listen empathetically and respectfully to diverse community voices, work with PBOT’s bean counters anxious about which projects we’d choose to fund with new revenue, and deliberately prioritize valuable time and political capital for justice-minded, cost-efficient outcomes. Her collaborative work with the East Portland Action Plan, TriMet, and PBOT helped ensure that the city would fund the necessary infrastructure so that East Portland would finally move toward a frequent-service north/south bus line for the first time in decades.

I also relied on Andrea in the Foster Streetscape project [which will start construction this summer]. Although I always thought it was a good project, I delayed it when I realized our community outreach had not been extensive enough to reach historically underrepresented communities. Andrea worked with PBOT not only to expand our outreach and engagement on that project, but to revamp PBOT’s approach to outreach and community engagement in general. The Foster Road project is going ahead, improving traffic safety and neighborhood livability, with broad community buy-in.

Andrea’s leadership, thoughtfulness and project management skills are easily recognized by any set of community advocates that have had the pleasure of working with her. She’s been a dedicated voice for change at the David Douglas School District, where she serves as a Board Member. Among other achievements, she got a unanimous vote for expanded birth control services. She’s likewise received accolades from her work in the Mayor’s office on the Sanctuary City resolution. Time and again she has proven herself more than capable, and wise beyond her years at navigating bureaucracies, community advocates, and policy wonkery.

When I asked Andrea recently about her vision for bicycling, she immediately said that she would like to find a way to extend Safe Routes to School bicycle education programs to adults. She said that to many low-income people, buying and servicing a bike seems like one more expense that they can’t afford. It isn’t obvious to many people that if you bike more, you save money by avoiding the cost of gas and wear-and-tear on a car, or even TriMet tickets. That’s not a comment that I’d heard before, from any politician, and it reflects Andrea’s unique background and perspective.

A city commissioner by herself can’t promise to immediately implement a permanent Better Naito, all of PBOT’s proposed Enhanced Transit Corridors, fight ODOT’s senseless freeway expansion, or raise taxes on the wealthy to fund Youthpass. That level of Sim City-esque dictatorship is simply not within the job description (again, the whole thing about Getting to Three Votes, for starters). But a city commissioner can govern in such a manner that the advocates, rabblerousers, and community members desperately clamoring for full fledged solutions to our housing, transportation, and police accountability woes can be confident that the Commissioner doesn’t just agree with their principles but has a chance of implementing them in practice. I’m confident Andrea will deliver.

— Steve Novick


Publisher’s note:

Valderrama is running for City Council position number three. Learn more about all the candidates here. For more coverage don’t miss our recap of the recent candidate forum on transportation. For another look at this race, read the Willamette Week’s endorsement of Valderrama’s competitor Jo Ann Hardesty.

If anyone else has endorsements they’d like to publish, drop a line and we’ll consider it.

– Jonathan Maus

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