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Mayoral candidates spar over I-5 expansion at climate debate

Posted by on March 9th, 2020 at 1:56 pm

Candidates and moderators on-stage.
(Photos captured from livestream provided by XRAY-FM)

“So do it, but do it right.”
— Mayor Ted Wheeler on I-5 Rose Quarter project

Just over two months before the primary election and lines are being drawn on key issues by Portland mayoral candidates.

Sunday night’s sold-out debate hosted by the local chapter of Sunrise Movement focused on climate change. The three main questions asked candidates for their stance on the I-5 Rose Quarter project, how they’d manage a just transition and divestment from fossil fuels, and how they’d make sure climate-induced immigrants were treated with respect and justice.

The five candidates that took part included incumbent Mayor Ted Wheeler, Mayor Ted Wheeler, Piper Crowell, Ozzie González, Sarah Iannarone, and Teressa Raiford. Two Sunrise Movement activists and one Harriet Tubman Middle School student asked the questions and Emilly Prado was the moderator.

The crowd at Revolution Hall was told to hold up green or red signs to show support or disagreement; but they didn’t always follow the rules. It was still possible to judge reactions based on cheers or jeers after an answer. Based on that it was clear most people in the crowd were not huge fans of Mayor Wheeler.

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Questions were asked by three youth activists (on the left) described as “The future of Portland”.

After Wheeler shared information about his emergency climate declaration and how he worked with “frontline communities” to craft it (in response to the question about a just transition and divestment), the crowd offered such tepid applause that he laughed under his breath. “Thanks Mom,” he said quietly as he passed the mic to the next candidate, “I appreciate that.”

And right from the outset, Sarah Iannarone directed sharp criticism at Wheeler (as she sat just inches away from him). “Portland has a lot of amazing words,” she responded right after Wheeler. “There’s always a declaration this, a policy that. The question is: Where is the urgency and where are the teeth?! Why are we only talking about a climate emergency in 2020? This should have happened January 1, 2017 if you’re going to campaign as a climate mayor.”

(Sarah Iannarone, Ozzie Gonzalez)

Ozzie Gonzalez, a TriMet board member, was very confident and took turns criticizing both Wheeler and Iannarone. He proclaimed several times throughout the night that he’s the only “climate scientist” in the race: “I’m only one up here who’s actually written a climate report and has done the calculations, so believe you me it’s going to be a good one.” Gonzalez got strong applause when he said the city should be publishing quarterly updates on the Climate Action plan — which hasn’t been updated since 2017.

Teressa Raiford

Activist and organizer Teressa Raiford said we must first “decolonize American” before true divestment can happen. “We have to believe in liberation for all of us if we want to truly divest from the things that harm us.”

Raiford also had the most memorable moment of the night when she boldly called Mayor Wheeler a liar. The tense exchange came after Wheeler described the city’s response to a series of white supremacist rallies in downtown Portland. “When white supremacists wanted to come to our community, we fought back,” he said.

But Wheeler’s answer didn’t include anything the police response to counter-protestors. So Iannarone was quick to respond. “When our community mobilizes… the police brutalize us in the streets.” “I was there, I witnessed it with my own eyes,” she continued. “This is not OK!”

As Iannarone’s time ran out, Raiford requested time for a response then chimed in to back her up, “I got this,” she said. “Ted. You’re a liar. Period.” Then Raiford and the rest of the panel sat in silence as her 30 seconds ticked off the clock.

In response, Wheeler said, “Wow. OK. All right.” It looked like he considered saying something else, but he opted to let it go and then the event moved on.

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The question about ODOT’s I-5 Rose Quarter project revealed a new position from Wheeler. He reiterated that he and other local leaders don’t support the project unless ODOT performs an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). But he also explained why he doesn’t believe the project should be scrapped. The crowd booed when he said that. Then he said (somewhat dismissively), “Go ahead, get it out of your system,” before explaining why he thinks the project is worth doing:

Ted Wheeler

“In the beginning, what we heard was 10,000 trucks a day go up I-5. In 20 years, when all those vehicles are electric — and even if they use renewable energy — they will still go through that area. We need to talk about the fact that to get to I-84 you go north on I-405, then south on 5, then east on 84 and it creates a whole host of issues that have not been addressed. For those of you who support the Albina Vision, it cannot happen without the caps over I-5. There’s significant new investment in bikeways and walkways and rejoining that historic Albina community cannot happen without [the project]. Then we have to talk about I-5 going over the Columbia River. We can’t just let it fall into the river. At some point we’re going to have to invest in that infrastructure as well. So do it, but do it right.”

Iannarone pointed out that Wheeler’s recent strong language about the project only came after “months and months and months” of pressure from activists. She also had harsh criticism of the project overall and said she’d rather see high-speed rail in the corridor instead of more freeway lanes. “Everything to do with active transportation [in the project] is an afterthought… We can’t be spending billions expanding fossil fuel infrastructure in the middle of a climate crisis while 50 Portlanders died on our streets last year,” she said. “The fact is that ODOT is trying to sell this to the public on bad data, bad analysis, and the false premise this is a safety project.”

Piper Crowell

Gonzalez didn’t like Iannarone’s answer. “That’s just not good enough, Sarah,” he said. “It shows you’re not thinking of the big picture. If we did the thing you’re saying and dismantle I-5, what are we going to do tomorrow? We don’t have a replacement for the infrastructure that’s going to supply our goods and services yet. We’re not ready for that stuff… It’s not enough to just say I’m going to dismantle I-5 because I don’t have a better answer.”

Raiford said ODOT’s plans are nothing more than another “hustle and broken promises” and it will have similar negative health and environmental impacts to local communities as the initial construction of I-5 had.

Nike executive Piper Crowell said the City of Portland needs to apologize to the students of Tubman and Albina residents, “For once again trying to pollute your community and allow the air you breathe to be full of diesel emissions”

You can watch the entire debate on YouTube thanks to XRAY-FM. If you want to hear more from these candidates and those running for city council, make plans to attend the Transportation Candidates Forum tomorrow (3/10).

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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middle of the road guy
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middle of the road guy

Can anyone actually run a city?

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

The Commission system of gov’t is racist, classist, and sucks hard at other levels too; it has been banned by the courts throughout the south, yet it persists in Portland; there are much better ways to run a city, and Portland needs to grow up.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

The most difficult part of this problem is that we live in an economic system that is dependent on growth. From how money is created to the entire concept of debt at interest, investments and pensions we have built ourselves an economy that only work if it grows. There has been serious work on the concept of a zero growth economy by Herman Daly and others but the idea remains an anathema to most everyone in business, finance , government and economics. Renewable energy can replace some of the energy now provided by fossil fuels, but transitioning to it will require a serious downsizing of our energy use and will stop or reverse economic growth. This is why many in the mainstream tie themselves in knots on this issue. We must do it, but it is a challenge that most are not ready for.

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

bankers and mortgage lenders got bailed out in 2008, did the homeowners, student loan holders or middle-class credit card holders who help keep the economy afloat?

J
Guest
J

Nitpicker here.

1. “The five candidates that took part included incumbent Mayor Ted Wheeler, Mayor Ted Wheeler, Piper Crowell, Ozzie González, Sarah Iannarone, and Teressa Raiford.”

2. No link for Crowell? https://pipercrowell.com/

3. No link for Raiford? https://www.teressaraifordformayor.com/

maxD
Guest
maxD

very disappointed to hear Wheeler’s answers about the I-5 expansion projects. I appreciate that he acknowledged that the Rise Quarter is inextricably bound to reviving the Columbia Crossing. I had hoped that his softening on requiring ODOT to do an EIS meant he understood the project’s fundamental shortcomings, but it is apparent that he sees the project as inevitable and desirable and just wants to make ODOT jump through some expensive hoops to appease critics. Mayor Wheeler:
1. The lids being proposed are NOT caps
2. The surface street changes/bigger/wider ramps will further isolate the streets along the Rose Quarter. We need no ramps (or at least smaller/slower ramps) to promote a safe, walkable and connected neighborhood
3. The bike/ped bridges being proposed come at the expense of losing the Flint street crossing- a direct/ flat route. The result is not a clear increase in connectivity and is likely a decrease.
4. to deal with congestion: try tolls first. Then invest in transit. Then invest in filling the dangerous gaps in the bike and ped network. Then carpool lanes. This highway expansion should be a last resort.

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

Flint is the single best way down from North Portland, nothing ODOT is proposing will replace it, the freeway interchange at Williams and Vancouver is to be avoided at all costs, and the proposed new routes will be too steep eastbound for anything but an ebike or Type A cyclist.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

A new bike and ped bridge at Flint could probably use the current structure as support during construction, and keep the other half of the bridge open for those same users (closing it for cars) during that construction. This way, the connection would remain open even when demolition of the road structure beneath is done.

What if PBOT closed the structure to cars now in anticipation of it’s removal – even if just to get area users used to the proposed future?

dwk
Guest
dwk

How about we fix and repair the infrastructure we do have, provide some police to patrol our completely lawless streets, clean up and take care of the houseless problem and then they can have a discussion about climate… Seriously, this is a really unimpressive bunch.
A city of 500,000 can’t find a decent mayor? Anyone?

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

No, we have to focus all our energy on global warming, because that’s a problem a city government can solve, right? Biking everywhere and re-using shopping bags will offset all of China’s emissions. Another report, diligently prepared and updated quarterly, should allow Portland to offset all of India’s emissions also.

Theatre of the absurd.

Evan Manvel
Guest
Evan Manvel

Yes, actually – the climate crisis is one to be addressed by all levels of government and business.

Larger cities – home to 70% of Oregon’s global warming pollution from transportation (about 40% of our global warming pollution) – are a key place to bend the curve.

This whole “China and India” thing is hogwash as well. They each emit a small fraction per capita of what the U.S. does, and are taking actions.

In 2017, China launched a carbon market (i.e. what Oregon can’t seem to get done.)

China’s action: https://www.edf.org/climate/why-china-center-our-climate-strategy

India’s action: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/06/how-indias-battle-with-climate-change-could-determine-all-of-our-fates

Remember: we can’t argue with science. The science demands dramatic action at all levels, yesterday. Mother earth bats last.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

I think you’re the one arguing with science, and your argument is hogwash. Transportation, electricity generation, and industrial processes are the three largest sources of carbon emissions. The city government has virtually no authority to regulate them. Doing anything remotely close to reducing emissions to the level needed requires coordinated international action. Focusing on this issue at the city level to the detriment of all of our other problems is the same thing Portland city government has been doing for two decades: GREENWASHING. ***Portion of comment deleted due to insensitive and mean remarks. Please be kind The Dude. Your points will have much more impact if you maintain respect for others. Thanks. – Jonathan***.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

That piece you shared from EDF is laughable, BTW. You think an American nonprofit is going to convince the government of China to stop carbon emissions? Only to the extent that it doesn’t impact their economic growth, which is to say not much. That’s a bet I will take.

It says China instituted a “carbon market” in 2017 covering “one-third of China’s total carbon emissions.” That leaves two-thirds of the carbon emissions from the world’s “number one greenhouse gas emitter still unregulated. And we’re already well over 400 PPM. And as we know, the carbon market concept has already failed in Oregon, in part from progressive opposition, because it’s a weak solution that does not reduce emissions to the extent necessary to maintain a stable climate.

I’m not sure what’s worse: Right-wing nut jobs who just ignore the problem, or left-wing idealists who argue that horse-out-of-the-barn half-measures will save the world. You are both leading us down the primrose path.

GREENWASHING.

soren
Guest
soren

“Remember: we can’t argue with science. The science demands dramatic action at all levels, yesterday.”

“…a carbon market (i.e. what Oregon can’t seem to get done.)”

In Chapter 2 of the recent IPCC SR1.5 , carbon prices of around $100/ton were associated with policy that would keep us below 2 C. The carbon pollution market you support consistently prices carbon at around $17/ton and depends on riduclous pseudoscientific offsets and speculative pollution credits (that would allow the worst polluters to continue to pollute for decades).

Perhaps you should take your own advice and stop supporting the climate-science-denying policies of the democratic party.

“Carbon offsetting is like paying poor people to diet for us”
— Greta Thunberg

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

The math works against you, actually.
It’s the everyday, small contributions of individuals that are causing the current problem, so stopping those small contributions at the source is the most likely way (probably the easiest also) to reduce the total impact due to the multiplying factors. If you only think about your contribution, sure, you changing doesn’t have much effect. If you think about a million people in the metro area just like you each making small changes, the net effect is quite large. 10M in Oregon, 100M in the US, etc.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

Totally wrong. The biggest misconception of so-called progressives in this country is that their personal choices will make the difference in carbon emissions. Nothing you or I do in our daily lives, short of no longer using a car or electricity or any animal products is going to change the way we generate electricity, is going to stop overwhelming dependence on motor vehicles, etc.

You’re simply wrong. And that’s fine, I’m used to this environmental illiteracy. But your wrong opinions are actually harming real efforts to curb carbon emissions. If that’s what you care about, educate yourself.

rain panther
Guest
rain panther

“Nothing you or I do in our daily lives, short of no longer using a car or electricity or any animal products is going to change the way we generate electricity, is going to stop overwhelming dependence on motor vehicles, etc. You’re simply wrong.”

Dude, you seem dead set on rationalizing your own refusal to make changes in your daily life. I suppose that’s your prerogative, but I’m not sure why you feel such a strong need to squash others’ desire to make changes that might be for the greater good. The notion that individual actions have no effect on the entirety of the problem – that is simply and objectively wrong.

The contradiction is right there in your statement. Are you saying that individuals lessening their dependence on motor vehicles – and advocating for infrastructure that lessens dependence on motor vehicles – cannot have any impact on dependence on motor vehicles? This makes no sense.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

I’m not saying that. And don’t make this about me “rationalizing your own refusal to make changes in your daily life.” I’ve made plenty of changes and I’m comfortable with my carbon footprint. I’m happy for other people to make changes to their lifestyles. I welcome it.

But that won’t solve the problem. There has to be a massive and immediate transition in how most of the world generates electricity, for example. That has nothing to do with my choices. Focusing on the lifestyle choices is extremely short-sited and self-defeating.

You need to understand that being a great Oregon do-gooder isn’t going to cut it.

rain panther
Guest
rain panther

First, thank you for elaborating. I think this clarifies your position a little more.

Second, you need to understand that name-calling just pisses people off (me included) and makes communication that much harder.

rain panther
Guest
rain panther

Thirdly, you need to understand that starting a sentence with “you need to understand” is a pretty bad way to make anyone understand anything.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Rather than trying to convince people that they are wrong, what we need to do is find ways to make change in the face of a large number of people who think their actions are meaningless.

Whether they are right or wrong hardly matters.

RyanJ
Guest
RyanJ
X
Guest
X

Because of rapidly falling crude oil prices we have another opportunity to legislate gas taxes that put a floor on the cost of using SOV for personal transportation. The money could be spent on alternative energy technology or even made revenue neutral.

Doubters have a point, without some government intervention in markets the hard choices that individuals won’t make because it’s inconvenient to take the bus, etc., will never be made. Our trucks won’t fit in our garages anymore.

Covid19 is having sweeping effects on economies and government policy that we’ve neither planned nor foreseen. Stuff happens. If you sit on a train track long enough, a train comes along. Two years ago we shut down the White House office meant to address the possibility of a pandemic because there wasn’t one at the time I guess. Now that is a thing again but we’re still fiddling while the climate changes.

Gregg
Guest

Go Sarah Iannarone for mayor.

Voters: PLEASE GET RID OF TED WHEELER

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Absolutely none of these candidates interest me much at all. It’s a pretty unmotivational lot.

Fred
Guest
Fred

We often think that politicians should lead when in fact they usually follow the whims of the electorate. That’s the tough position Wheeler finds himself in: having to look as though he is leading the charge to do something about the climate catastrophe, when in fact he simply following what 90% of Portlanders want, which is to lead lives of uninterrupted comfort, with a future of even less uninterrupted comfort as symbolized by eight-lane freeways for cars and trucks (not bikes).

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“We often think that politicians should lead when in fact they usually follow the whims of the electorate.”

This is so true. People usually vote for a candidate because that candidate has promised to do what I want and make those other whiners toe the line. Almost nobody votes for “fairness”; nobody will vote for that person who is going to force me to make the hard choices. This is why a democracy/republic only does well when there is a so-called “informed electorate”. The voters have to understand and acknowledge the issues facing us before they can really make the best choice of vote. Unfortunately, there are very few who are able to really evaluate modern-day issues, and instead are arguing over tenets of political faith, listening only for the answers they want to hear, rather than owning up to our responsibilities.

Jon
Guest
Jon

If you want to lose an election in a hurry your best strategy would be to alienate the 90% of the electorate that drive cars to get everywhere and pander to the 5% of the population that commute by bicycle. Both my wife and I commute by bicycle so bike infrastructure is important to me. I usually make the assumption that any candidate that gets overwhelming support in the comments on this site has a near 0% chance of getting elected because they are very far from what the average voter is looking for at election time. I’m all in for congestion tolls, rapid bus routes, no more car travel lanes, ect. but any candidate that pushes those issues to the front is not going to get elected. I’m hoping to find a reasonable mayor that can actually get something done for non-car transport not lead some sort of revolution. Elected politicians can’t make fast or radical changes due to the nature of our democratic system. If we lived in some autocratic society where a dictator could do whatever they wanted we could see rapid change. Often that change starts with jailing anyone who says anything bad about the dictator followed by rewarding all the dictator’s allies with influential jobs. Think Russia, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, etc.

SD
Guest
SD

“find a reasonable mayor that can actually get something done for non-car transport not lead some sort of revolution.”
I agree that this is what Portlanders have thought about when voting, and unfortunately this calculus has resulted in Ted Wheeler, Charlie Hales, 8 years of modal stagnation and Portland falling behind on climate leadership.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I think Portlanders will support candidates with much more progressive transportation and climate change policies, but the problem is that those candidates tend to drape themselves in the rhetoric of the radical left. I think many people are reluctant to vote for candidates who tell them they have inherited the guilt for the sins of somebody else’s grandparents.

What we need are candidates who will walk the walk, but don’t talk the talk.

nuovorecord
Guest
nuovorecord

This could be the least impressive group of candidates for Portland mayor in my lifetime. I have ZERO confidence that any of them – as well-intentioned they may be – can articulate and deliver a coherent vision for how to fix Portland’s problems and continue the progress that began in the 80s. I think I’m going to write in “Bud Clark”.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

The thing I find funny about the whole I-5 congestion “debate” is that the cry is for The Freight. “The Freight! The Freight! What about the Freight!? How ever will we get our goods if the freeway is so clogged The Freight can’t get through?” [wrings hands]. I’ve traveled I-5 enough times at different times of day to know that “The Freight” isn’t what’s clogging it up. Get rid of the convenience travelers in their SOVs, and The Freight will sail on through. I still say (naively, of course) we should allow the freeway to be used as a freeway to pass through town, but toll every I-5 exit into town between 298 and 306.

rain panther
Guest
rain panther

Yeah it’s a total red herring.

On the other hand, since we’re all super worried about freight, and since we’re in agreement that freight ought to move through the region freely, maybe we should give freight a dedicated lane on all our freeways? I mean, come on – everybody loves freight, right? Right??

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Sure… But what about the freight?

Carrie
Subscriber

El Biciclero
I’ve traveled I-5 enough times at different times of day to know that “The Freight” isn’t what’s clogging it up. Get rid of the convenience travelers in their SOVs, and The Freight will sail on through. I still say (naively, of course) we should allow the freeway to be used as a freeway to pass through town, but toll every I-5 exit into town between 298 and 306.

For at least four years I feel like the Freight Lobby and the all-powerful Bicycle Lobby (ha!) can really work some major changes to the way we use and prioritize our existing infrastructure if we worked together to get SOVs off the roads and out of the way. It is to both of our benefit to take single-occupancy, short-trip vehicles off the roads, both locally and interstate. Why we often seem to be at odds over this baffles me sometimes.

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

Probably for the same reason environmentalists and timber workers were never able to work together to ensure healthy forests. And the fact that corporate interests really only care about money above all else and it is in their best interest to keep other parties with convergent goals apart rather than working together for a common goal.

buildwithjoe
Guest

There are so many comments here that seem to accept the freeway if a few concessions are made for bike ideas. The street trust has crossed over to say if we cant stop it let’s accept the “Freeway done right”..

This project should not happen in any form. Stop #freewayTed stop the propaganda.

Here’s the evidence to show a pattern of sheep in Portland

Earl Blumenauer launches is “Trade done right” propaganda to sell free trade:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/10QlWyKnsV8egZhMlQRak1oI-SH1bWC-U0iT3t7UFmK8/edit?usp=sharing

What’s next? War done right? Coup done right? Oil done right? Apartheid done right for self preservation? We know we have new world spin masters.

Here is the Street Trust with their Freeway done right marketing:

https://web.archive.org/web/20181220164328/https://www.thestreettrust.org/2017/08/the-future-of-the-rose-quarter/

” plan includes a much needed cap over the highway, reconnects the surface streets in the area, builds a new bicycle and pedestrian bridge over I-5, and improves connections…We would oppose it if it compromised the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. We are choosing to work with project planners and local leaders to ensure that the most important street safety improvements don’t get value-engineered out of the project and that we set a new standard of congestion pricing and capping urban freeways in Portland.”

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

If it’s really true that Earl Blumenauer and the street trust support the Freeway expansion as proposed by ODOT, that’s FDUP.