Splendid Cycles Big Sale

ODOT shutters I-5 Rose Quarter Community Advisory Committee

Posted by on September 2nd, 2020 at 2:18 pm

The Community Advisory Committee at their July 23rd meeting, which would be their last.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has just taken the rare step of closing down its own advisory committee in favor of a new one that will consist of mostly hand-picked members. It’s the latest twist in ODOT’s effort to resuscitate the highly controversial, $800 million I-5 Rose Quarter mega-project that’s been on life support for months.

While ODOT says the move is an effort, “To intentionally center voices of the Black community,” it also allows them to avoid difficult questions from skeptical and frustrated committee members, one of whom had already resigned and several others who planned to follow suit.

In a statement released today, ODOT said the 25-member Community Advisory Committee (CAC) will be shut down in favor of a “board of individuals with historic ties to Albina.” Albina is the neighborhood where thousands of Black people lived before ODOT destroyed their homes with the initial construction of Interstate 5.

In an email today, an ODOT spokesperson said the change comes, “In response to input from the Black community, the Community Advisory Committee and our partners we are taking action to intentionally center voices of the Black community and those who have experienced historic harm from the construction of I-5.”

The new advisory body will be called the Historic Albina Advisory Board and will have 17 members, 11 of which will be appointed by ODOT and their partners.

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“Our committee doesn’t have a charter. We’re essentially in a listening session for the first months of our committee’s existence, we have no actual power.”
— Clint Culpepper, CAC member

The end of the CAC marks the second of the project’s two major advisory committees to falter. The Executive Steering Committee (ESC) saw several key members resign over the summer including Albina Vision Trust Managing Director Winta Yohannes and City of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Transportation Commissioner Chloe Eudaly.

The CAC first convened back in March and had met three times since May. From the outset there were concerns that the committee would be a rubber stamp without real power.

At the CAC’s first meeting ODOT held a listening session to hear where committee members stood on a variety of issues. In a slide ODOT shared at the next meeting “Rescope or cancel the project” was the first bullet point.

ODOT was supposed to present the CAC with an official charter in order to clarify how the committee could influence the project. Members felt the charter was key to whether or not they’d wield enough power to make the committee more than window dressing. Several members of the committee had pointed concerns about the freeway-widening aspect of the project, but ODOT seemed unwilling to give them power to influence what was already proposed. According to committee members, they were told the charter would be up for debate and adoption at the July 23rd meeting, but the item was scuttled from the agenda at the last minute.

In part because of that foot-dragging on the charter, ODOT faced difficult questions at the July CAC meeting (which would be its last).

CAC member Saumya Kini was miffed the new charter was pulled from the agenda. “I read in the agenda we were going to be adopting a new charter today,” she said. “I think the language of that charter will answer how we can meaningfully influence the project.”

Another CAC member, Chris O’Connor said, “I don’t want to be window dressing for a project that gets rammed through… You guys have already decided what house to build, how big it is, and we’re just deciding what color paint it is on the side. And then you’re going to tell the neighbors that we were involved in the decision to build the house.”

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“I find it frustrating to sit on advisory committees and know that all of the design, financial decisions, and considerations have already been determined long before any real restorative justice can take place.”
— Liz Fouther-Branch

In response, ODOT would only acknowledge the frustrations and make more promises that action would happen sometime in the future.

CAC member Clint Culpepper also expressed frustration about not seeing the charter. “Our committee doesn’t have a charter. We’re essentially in a listening session for the first months of our committee’s existence, we have no actual power,” he said at the July meeting. “Nothing’s been granted to us to actually shape anything other than having a platform to give our comments on… How do you propose moving forward until we actually get some real firm things we can discuss rather than just listening to this list of promises you’re going to give us?” 

ODOT Project Manager Megan Channell responded to Culpepper by pleading with him to “stay on board” and promised the charter would be ready by the August meeting. ODOT cancelled that meeting and now they’ve cancelled the entire committee.

One CAC member had already resigned and sources say a mass resignation was imminent.

Retired educator and now consultant Liz Fouther-Branch resigned from the committee on July 1st. “I find it frustrating to sit on advisory committees and know that all of the design, financial decisions, and considerations have already been determined long before any real restorative justice can take place,” Fouther-Branch wrote. “I stand with the Albina Vision Trust, local elected officials, and community partners in pointing out that the I-5 corridor project does not address historic wrongs done to the Black community over the last 50+ years. During this time of protest, it is imperative to reject minimal performative gestures that will not improve air quality, guarantee jobs, create wealth or dismantle policies, procedures, and practices that continue to harm and traumatize us.”

With so much bad publicity already swirling around this project, a walkout of many CAC members would have been another huge blow.

Metro Council candidate and founder of Rose Quarter project opposition group No More Freeways Chris Smith said ODOT’s move is, “Merely the latest example of the agency’s unwillingness to be accountable to everyday Portlanders… Make no mistake – ODOT’s moving forward with a new, handpicked committee because representatives on the existing community engagement efforts were frustrated by the agency’s unwillingness to let them meaningfully critique the project.”

According to a source close to the CAC, “ODOT quit on the people, before the people could quit on them.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Roberta RoblesRacer XDavid HampstenFredMiddle of the Road Guy Recent comment authors
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Gasper
Guest

Thanks Jonathan, its an important topic and shows the nature of business as usual in this department. Using the justification of the current state of racial affairs as the reason sounds good but considering how they have been completely out of touch with the desires of Portlanders in the past…

I don’t like assuming the worst of bureaucrats but ODOT so rarely leaves me feeling unjustified in doing so.

dan
Guest
dan

@ Jonathan, I think you have a typo in the title, should be “shuttered”, no? And this is very upsetting, definitely looks like they’re trying to stack the deck to get a group that will rubber stamp their plans.

joan
Guest
joan

Didn’t they choose the advisory board already? I’m very much in favor of them listening to Black voices, but if they’re not listening to the Albina Project, it doesn’t seem like that’s what they’re truly after.

Joe Cortright
Guest

Don’t like the answer your Community Advisory Committee is giving you? Fire them, and appoint a new committee. Repeat as necessary until you get the answer you want. A very ODOT way of doing things.

No surprise, as this is coming from an office who’s actual motto is “The Process is the Project.”
(Not kidding: https://www.oregon.gov/odot/Get-Involved/OTCSupportMaterials/Agenda_F_Urban_Mobility_Office_Projects_Update_PPT.pdf)

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

“The Process is the Project”: Very catchy. It sounds like some bland hit from a Korean boy band or a new tune by the Orb.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

76ers.

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

The whole role of an “advisory” committee is to ‘advise and make recommendations on project matters that may be missed or overlooked by staff insiders’. In my experience, public agencies in the NW love to form advisory committees versus the more traditional commissions these days, since a commission often has a stronger rule making role versus just advise of volunteers. As everyone knows advise is just ‘advice’. It is pretty rare for the wheels to fall off a state level advisory group and to be cancelled so publicly versus dying a slow administrative death. (Did it have a good charter and agreement upon its start…of was there conflicting guidance and management in additional to the larger issues?)

It will be interesting to see the composition of the next group. I wager it will have many seats for those directly or indirectly tied to the business side of this pending project (small contractors etc.). And may be it will be salted with a few folks wearing bike helmets/ high-viz gear just for effect. (‘Bike RHINOs’)

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

And ODOTs advisory committee main web page is entitled “GET INVOLVED”…but I guess NOT Too Much! ;-/
https://www.oregon.gov/odot/Get-Involved/

Cancel ODOT
Guest
Cancel ODOT

Wow. The screenshot of the committee. A pictures says a thousand words.

Gasper
Guest

It looks like about half women and maybe 1/3 POC so… what words are you reading into this picture?

Dirk Mcgee
Guest
Dirk Mcgee

This just still doesn’t go far enough for the community

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

What percent should it be?

qqq
Guest
qqq

Coincidentally, I just had a run-in with ODOT myself. A maintenance project had some safety problems due to poor staging and detouring, which I photographed and reported. ODOT responded that the problems did not exist, and neither did the trucks in my photos. This committee thing shows the same denial of reality on an incredibly larger scale.

maxD
Guest
maxD

Who has oversight over this decision? Didn’t they already promise a bunch of contracting work to Raimore in an effort to pander to the black community? This new committee seems like a quid pro quo opportunity. From the announcement: “ODOT announced today it is ending the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project’s current Community Advisory Committee and replacing it with a board of individuals with historic ties to Albina.” What about current residents of Albina? What about the other communities that will be impacted by this work. It appears that ODOT is hoping to satisfy one subset of one community and call it social and environmental justice. Smells like bullshit to me.

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

Does Oregon State have anything similar to this Federal law (FACA)? [I could not find one.]
The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) (Pub.L. 92–463, 86 Stat. 770, enacted October 6, 1972), is a United States federal law which governs the behavior of federal advisory committees. In particular, it has special emphasis on open meetings, chartering, public involvement, and reporting.[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Advisory_Committee_Act

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Typically state DOT committees have to abide by (and are governed through) certain USDOT rules and regulations concerning public meetings, commission governance, etc, which tend to be much stronger than local or state ordinances – you want our money, then you have to play by our rules. Check under FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) or FTA (Federal Transit Administration.)

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

Oregon’s public meeting laws are already quite robust; see ORS 192.630 and surrounding sections.

Fred
Guest
Fred

Liz said it best: “all of the design, financial decisions, and considerations have already been determined …”

I’ve been burned many times by these so-called advisory groups. They are window dressing – designed to provide The Illusion of Inclusion™

They allow the public agency to say “The people were involved!” without giving people any substantive involvement.

Sorry if I sound cynical, but my cynicism is well-earned.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I’m even more cynical than you are – I use these committees to further my agenda in other parts of town or on projects that have nothing to do with the project at hand. It’s a great opportunity to lobby bureaucrats and local politicians, to get their undivided attention. You also learn where the money comes from, for future pet pork-barrel projects.

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

The Oregonian commented on this trend for ODOT with failed community advisory committees and other public process shortcomings…at a time when this work is even more important AND already challenging without mis-steps:

https://www.oregonlive.com/commuting/2020/09/oregon-could-better-reach-out-to-bike-pedestrian-groups-before-construction-projects-audit-finds.html

Roberta Robles
Guest
Roberta Robles

I would like to point out that the email announcement did not include the term auxiliary lane; however the project website still have drawings of the predetermined auxiliary lane on their website. If they scrap all those design drawings and bring together OPTIONS for the community to deliberate and provide feedback, then we would be getting closer to community decision making. Right now we have Jana Jarvis using her position of cronyism on the Portland Freight Committee who insists that the 53% RUC was in exchange for the auxiliary lane. So yeah we still have a bunch of backhanded oil and freight dealings prohibiting access to the Portland Freight Committee which is run by system racism bureaucrat Bob Hillier. So that’s the hold up. Nobody wants to be on the Freight Committee because Jana won’t let you unless you are a paid member of the Oregon Trucking Association, which will trump any recommendations the new committee of Albina leadership. Another round of here we go again. Why does a woman who doesn’t even live in Portland hold so much sway over Harriet Tubman MS is a nod to a woman losing her grip on power. Good riddance I say. They have ducked over the entire funding systems at ODOT. Boycott OTA