What happened to Zach Katz and the $13,000 he raised to sue PBOT over Hawthorne decision?

Posted by on December 2nd, 2021 at 8:11 am

Screenshot of GoFundMe created by Zach Katz.

People who donated to a GoFundMe campaign back in April to raise funds for a lawsuit against the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) about a now-scrapped bike lane plan on Hawthorne Blvd have finally received an update — albeit a vague one — about where their money is going.

“A lawsuit is crucial for compelling PBOT to consistently, reliably prioritize safety rather than letting emotions and business associations dictate a continuation of the status quo.”
— Zach Katz

Zach Katz, the rabble-rousing cycling advocate who started the GoFundMe campaign, has long had high hopes for a more bikeable Hawthorne. Katz says he started sketching out what this updated Hawthorne Blvd would look like while in the sky somewhere between Amsterdam in Portland, flying back from a trip to the Dutch bike haven in early 2020. When he got back to Portland, he hit the ground running trying to convince PBOT to update the street with bike lanes.

But despite Katz’s efforts — which included creating a group called Healthier Hawthorne with the sole purpose of cultivating enthusiasm for protected bike lanes and gathering the signatures of more than 2,500 other bike advocates — PBOT decided against including bike lanes in their ‘Pave and Paint’ plan to update the stretch of Hawthorne between 24th and 50th avenues.

Shortly after the city made that announcement in February 2021, Katz wrote a very extensive blog post analyzing the city’s decision report for this project line by line. According to Katz, PBOT’s reasons for forgoing the bike lane were woefully inadequate. Some of the explanations in the decision report cite equity and climate issues as a reason the stretch of Hawthorne between would be better off without a bike lane, saying that transit times for Hawthorne bus riders would be negatively impacted if there was a designated space for people to ride their bikes.

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Katz’s blog post asserts that PBOT “fabricated the truth” to explain its ultimate decision for Hawthorne Blvd. Most notably, Katz states that the city’s racial equity and climate justice claims are unsupported by facts and actually run “orthogonal to data-supported equity and climate-friendly urban planning best practices” and “justify a street design that data shows will decrease safely…and maintain current inequitable and anti-climate outcomes.”

The legal case against PBOT focuses on this point. Katz says that without a bike lane, the ‘Pave and Paint’ project doesn’t comply with already-adopted policies like the Bicycle Plan for 2030, the Climate Action Plan and the Transportation System Plan.

Other people, including then-Portland Planning and Sustainability Commissioner Chris Smith, have corroborated this concern. At a PSC meeting in February, Smith said Portland is “missing a huge opportunity” by not implementing a bike lane, and said he is concerned it will prohibit the city from reaching its climate goals.

Katz’s GoFundMe has raised more than $13,000 of its $25,000 goal. But at this point, the situation is up in the air. And as of June, Katz is now an expat — he left Portland to move to Amsterdam, but says there is nothing more he can do about the lawsuit but wait for a lawyer to take the case.

“The way I see it, a lawsuit is crucial for compelling PBOT to consistently, reliably prioritize safety rather than letting emotions and business associations dictate a continuation of the status quo,” Katz told me in an interview Wednesday.

When Katz heard we were writing this story, he updated his GoFundMe page for the first time in five months. In that update, Katz wrote that the “money still exists and is in safekeeping” and there is a lawyer involved, but he can’t say anything more for confidentiality reasons. He also ensures donors that if the lawsuit falls through, he’ll issue everyone full refunds.

Katz says he’s been inspired by the more aggressive tactics that Dutch citizens took in the 1970s to make cities in the Netherlands suited for bikes before cars.

“I kind of see a lawsuit as the Portland equivalent of that,” Katz says. “If nobody’s going to be out in the streets burning cars, [we can] get aggressive with the law.”

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Catie Gould (Contributor)
Guest
Catie

“there is nothing more he can do about the lawsuit but wait for a lawyer to take the case”

What a disappointing non-update. Has he talked to one? Ten? Either Zach is actively pursuing this or not. Waiting is not a plan, and I didn’t see any justification given here for why the money shouldn’t be refunded right now.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

sorry if not clear in the article but Zach has definitely talked to a few local lawyers. None of them has agreed to take the case yet.

Catie Gould (Contributor)
Guest
Catie

Sure.. thats where I thought he was at 4 months ago. Now he no longer even lives in the country. Maybe there will be some positive outcome I don’t anticipate here with more time, but I hope the people that donated will reflect on the limits of lone-wolf advocacy and what they might do the next time a guy comes around with a big idea.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

I hear you. And I agree. For me personally, one of the biggest takeaways from all of this is a deeper understand of the pros/cons of lone wolf activism… Which I think Zach personified to a tee.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

And perhaps what sort of holes Portland has in its current organizations, and what roles these organizations can fill.

joan
Subscriber

We have some great local and recent examples of activists who do mostly solo projects. Sam Balto works with folks a lot, but he has done some excellent small-scale projects, and some completely on his own. But sometimes lone wolf projects are because you haven’t built consensus, and you’re not listening to other folks who share some of the same goals.

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

“Consensus” is a fictional concept invented by conservative people to perpetuate the status quo. Families can’t even reach conensus on what they want to eat for dinner, so how can you expect an entire city to agree on literally anything?

joan
Subscriber

This is quite a strawman! “Other folks who share some of the same goals” is definitely not “an entire city.” The point: if you are super driven to an effort that should benefit lots of people, and folks who would benefit are not supportive of that effort, maybe it’s worth taking a step back and doing a bit of listening and reflecting.

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

I think the real strawman is the opposition you seem to be imagining. Thousands of neighbors, over a hundred business owners, several local politicians, and most people who frequent this site were supportive of the effort. The only opposition I heard was from the Hawthorne Business Association (who wanted to preserve parking), a few business owners (who also wanted to preserve parking), and you and a few other people on this site who don’t seem to like me and have taken every opportunity to discourage my efforts to make Portland a better city. I encourage you to listen and reflect on your own behavior and hopefully be more supportive of future young advocates who might do things in a not-so-conventional way (or at least give more helpful, constructive feedback than vaguely warning them of their failure to listen to…who exactly?).

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

(To clarify, of course not everyone who opposed the project was doing so because they didn’t like me. Some people just don’t think safe bike infrastructure is needed on dangerous arterial streets. I think they’re wrong. Rest of my point stands)

Steve B
Guest
Steve B

Consensus doesn’t mean everyone agrees unanimously and no conservative people didn’t invent the concept. People who work with others in groups with diverse opinions encounter this concept regularly. Your failure to grasp this concept is telling.

Consensus is in the eye of the beholder
Guest
Consensus is in the eye of the beholder

This is completely unfair, Steve B.

Every single person Zach polled on Facebook agreed that people living in outer East Portland would benefit equally to, for example, a software engineer riding their Urban Arrow a few blocks to the 48-tap brewpub to quaff a Pliny The Elder IPA and eat a biodynamic grass fed venison-elk burger with duck fat-fried “La Ratte” pomme frites.

X
Guest
X

F book poll, what is that exactly? A poll has basically two parts, a bunch of questions and then a group of people who answer them. How the people are selected is crucial. Is it fair to assume that this was a poll of Zach’s meta-friends? That is not a random sample of the public.

I’m no fan of the PBOT process, don’t get me wrong. My first priority in these matters will always be a dedicated bus lane all the way to the county line, or the woods, or the crumbly edge of Hell’s Canyon. Car drivers eat cake.

Bike infrastructure, sure, bring it on although it’s always a bit disappointing. I’m agnostic on b.i. because even if they make bikes illegal I’m still gonna ride one. Obviously that situation doesn’t serve everybody so I guess a bunch of lame-ass greenways will have to do.

Watts
Guest
Watts

On the plus side, he got a lot more done than more organized groups like TST or even BikeLoud who nominally shared the vision. He managed to move the idea much further forward than it would have gone without him.

So while he wasn’t ultimately successful, I don’t think I’d use this as an example of why we should leave the rabble rousing to established organizations.

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

Hey Catie, there actually is more happening behind the scenes, but I (frustratingly) can’t share more because the parties involved would rather keep things private right now. I know that’s still an annoying non-update, but I do want to reassure you and anyone reading this that there *is* progress being made, and there should be a more satisfying update in the next few weeks.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

And you are still accepting donations?

Mike Owens
Guest
Mike Owens

Zach, I’m sure you are aware but it isn’t included in Taylor’s article, that PBOT was sued by BTA in the past for violating ORS 355.514. There is ALREADY legal precedent in regards to the Oregon statute that new road projects must include bike infrastructure. More, PBOT had tried to assert exemptions in the law and lost. I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve read as much as I can find about this 1990s issue. The lawyers involved then might be reachable and provide insight/guidance.
https://www.anylaw.com/case/bicycle-transportation-alliance-inc-v-city-of-portland/court-of-appeals-of-oregon/03-08-1995/9cW8XmYBTlTomsSBYgSW

https://gettingto2100.org/portlands-bicycle-revolution-started-with-a-lawsuit/

Psmith
Guest
Psmith

I assume you mean ORS 366.514, commonly known as the Bike Bill? It only talks about roads that are constructed, reconstructed, or relocated. Repaving an existing road is not subject to the bike bill, and this is long-established in the Oregon legal system.

Mike Owens
Guest
Mike Owens

Reconstructed is the key word here. The specifics of that case were indeed exactly about the streets in Portland. That PBOT tried to use excuses such as you suggest are “long established” is why they sued and they did win.

The intent of the law is important. Is there a way to put safe bike/ped infrastructure where needed without calling it reconstruction? No. The intent of the bill is not met.

Did Hawthorne require design work? Then it wasn’t simple repaving, it was construction. If the city were to comply with ORS355.514 would it have to “construct” new bike/peds infrastructure but without it they could claim it was just repaving? Doesn’t meet intent of the law.

I’d highly encourage Zach and others to reach out to those involved in this case. Does the precedent directly apply to Hawthorne? Probably. But even if not, the case is a good one.

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

You’re right on the money, Mike. I actually did talk to the people involved in that case—Rex Burkholder and Scott Bricker. My conversations with them were what inspired me to raise money for a lawsuit.

Zach Katz
Guest
Zach Katz

Yep very aware of that! In fact, IIRC the idea for a lawsuit came from Scott Bricker, who was on the BTA board and helped orchestrate that lawsuit.

Dave
Guest
Dave

With inflation running >6% that pile of money is quickly becoming less valuable. Hopefully Zach finds a resolution satisfactory to the donors soon.

X
Guest
X

The measure of inflation is a weighted average of the price increase of many things. Some of the biggest price increases for are stuff derived from petroleum, meat, and motor vehicles. The $13K presumably isn’t going toward those things. But let’s get real: that amount of money buys less than 40 hours of work by an attorney at a middling Portland law firm. This is where a motivated non-profit with a bird dog staff attorney could really make life heck for PDOT.

BTC
Guest
BTC

Should’ve bought bitcoin with it while he waited!

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I’m starting a GoFundMe to fully investigate where this money is actually going.

Let’s Active
Guest
Let’s Active

That $$ could support a lot of fries and fritessaus.

Toadslick
Subscriber

he left Portland to move to Amsterdam

the dream

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

I like the spirit, PBOT is really only going to change if a judge tells them they have to. That being said, $13k isn’t nearly enough for a protracted legal battle with the city. Not even in the ballpark.

I’d just return the money. Targeted lawsuits are smart but you need to have a plan going in. The most likely outcome here is some lawyer sucks up the $13k and the lawsuit goes nowhere.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

SO, if lawyers don’t see a case, people should start burning cars?!!! Zack Katz sounds eager to foment criminal behavior. I wonder if that extends to his stewardship of the $13,000?
This whole story has become a Portlandia episode of the darkest nature.

Watts
Guest
Watts

SO, if lawyers don’t see a case, people should start burning cars?!!!

Why wait?

soren
Guest
soren

Would also help bring down housing costs by reinforcing the “Portland is BURNING” narrative that has discouraged rampant housing speculation (e.g. Broadway corridor market-urbanist development project).

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

Yeah, I suspected as much. Don’t forget to post a rambling manifesto prior to your rampage of destruction.

Caleb
Guest
Caleb

I think he was referring to something that happened in Amsterdam in the 1970s rather than suggesting that’s the only alternative to a lawsuit. I don’t know much about that history, though, so can’t be certain.

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

They still burn cars in certain parts of the world (just sayin’).

soren
Guest
soren

In democratic nations burning empty cars is illegal but is also understood to be an expression of political protest (often with relatively low penalties).

https://www.france24.com/en/20140102-france-car-burning-new-year-tradition-urban-violence-media

In undemocratic nations like the USA young people who burn empty SUVs are charged with “terrorism” and face extreme penalties (e.g. life imprisonment).

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

He likely spoke to someone at the Red House on Mississippi for advice.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

I definitely didn’t take it as a good sign for this lawsuit when the repaving and repainting of Hawthorne went ahead, because why would they do that if they were at all fearful that the lawsuit would succeed? Seems expensive to paint the lines and then have to remove the lines and redo them. As much as I wish it were otherwise, the lawsuit was never going to go anywhere, and everyone including PBOT knows it.

zuckerdog
Subscriber
zuckerdog

For those who choose to circle the wagons and shoot inwards, I am curious to know what you are doing to help make positive change in the community.

I also wonder about the would-be activist who reads this forum and whether the comments deter or empower them from stepping out of their comfort zone to spearhead an effort to try to positively change their community.

Watts
Guest
Watts

What I am hearing is that everyone is encouraged to make positive change in their community by contributing to organizations like TST that have a long track record of getting hard stuff done.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

The Street Trust has existed for 4 years, and I am not sure that I would say they have gotten all that much hard stuff done. Hope for improvement in the future but I see more proposing of hard stuff than concrete progress towards the hard stuff from TST.

Watts
Guest
Watts

My comment above was meant with a touch of sarcasm.

And my sentence above was meant with a boatload of understatement.