Candidates for Council Position 2 / Julia DeGraw

1. East Portland is home to 25% of the city’s population, yet has historically been allocated a smaller share of city resources than other areas of town. How will you support equity for East Portland in city investments in transportation, parks, housing and economic development?

I ran for Portland City Council Position 2 in 2018 on a system change platform, and I’m doing so again now. I live in the Montavilla neighborhood east of 82nd Avenue–the same neighborhood my grandparents lived in in the 80’s, when they would babysit my brother and I every summer weekday while my parents were at work. I’ve seen firsthand the lack of investment and services in East Portland throughout my life. The streets that had no sidewalks or street lights when I was a kid still lack them, and the unpaved roads are also largely unchanged. I firmly believe that if East Portland had had adequate representation on the City Council since being forced to annex into the City in the 70’s and 80’s we would have seen far more investments in and better outcomes for East Portland communities.

That is why I’m a champion of system change in Portland. We need to create City Council districts so City Council members will be elected from every part of Portland. Not only will this increase geographic representation it will also make it easier for women and people of color to run for office. Our current at-large elections have led to a majority of elected leaders originating from the west side of town, and only three black people and nine women have ever served on Portland City Council–that’s not equitable or just representation.

Once we elect Councilors by district, they would then focus their time on legislating, planning, and constituency services, rather than on running City bureaus assigned to them by the Mayor. I truly believe that structural change is ultimately needed to get the transportation, housing, and parks funding East Portland desperately needs and deserves. Representation matters–once we have a system where a majority of elected officials represent the east side, which has the largest and fastest growing and most diverse population in the city, I know that we will get better investment in East Portland.

Heading into a once-a-decade Charter Review year in 2021, I’m the right leader for this historic moment. I am deeply committed to ensuring that the Charter Review process is fully funded and relies on robust community engagement to determine how to best change Portland’s form of government and how we vote to ensure system change that’s by and for the people of this city–leading to better representation and outcomes for all Portlanders.

 

2. East Portland lags behind the rest of the city in personal incomes and job opportunities. What will you do to increase the number of family-wage jobs in East Portland?

In addition to the system change proposal outlined in my first answer, I am deeply committed to strong community benefits agreements and strengthening the connection between our K-12 and public college systems to union apprenticeship programs. The way strong enforceable community benefits agreements work is that every time the City invests in a development project with public funding, it commits to hiring locally from historically disadvantaged communities and requiring that the project hire women and BIPOC contractors and apprentices to work on these publicly-funded projects. These opportunities provide real pathways out of poverty and strong family wage jobs with benefits to people who participate in these programs.

The City also must do better at hiring locally for its entire workforce. Whether it’s temporary construction work (even if it's contracted out), seasonal employees, or middle to upper management, the City should prioritize hiring local people who know and love this city. Additionally, the City itself must set a higher standard of what it means to be a responsible employer: we need to ensure that all jobs paid for through the City, even contract workers, are paid a living wage with good benefits. This may seem like a small thing, but hiring for good public sector jobs with benefits should prioritize East Portlanders and other local residents over out-of-state applicants.

Because East Portland has been so historically underserved, it also means there are so many opportunities for improvement, and to create great family wage jobs while we’re at it. I’m a leader on municipal broadband in the Portland metro area, and once the feasibility study is completed to assess the opportunities and challenges of bringing a publicly-owned internet utility to everyone in Multnomah County. I am committed to ensuring that residents currently underserved in East Portland and East County are the first to benefit from this service, which includes providing workforce training for East Portland residents on how to build and operate the network. This is just one of dozens of examples of publicly-funded projects that can both improve and create jobs in East Portland.

Likewise, the Residential Infill Project will create countless opportunities for creative affordable housing development. I will work together with EPAP, Unite Oregon, NAYA, APANO and other groups to support projects that create good family wage jobs in and for East Portlanders.

 

3. Portland is experiencing a severe housing crisis, and East Portland residents are particularly vulnerable to displacement. What tools will you implement to prevent involuntary displacement of low-income people from East Portland?

This issue has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s a lot of uncertainty about exactly how to prevent involuntary displacement in the new reality of shelter-in-place orders that may not end until June, or possibly even July. These orders are 100% the right thing to do for public safety, but this means the Federal government, State, and local governments must step up efforts to keep small businesses afloat and people in their homes.

My pre-COVID-19 answer would have outlined strong anti-displacement policies that would keep people in their neighborhoods even as new development improves East Portland neighborhoods. This would mean building deeply affordable housing by exploring land banking, land trusts, and collective housing (where kitchen and bathrooms may be shared among many smaller units or houses), housing cooperative models, and increasing renter protections, including limiting the rates at which landlords can raise the rent before relocation kicks in, etc. It would also include fully funding and improving the implementation of rental assistance to do a better job of keeping people in their homes in the first place.

Additionally, I support the “Portland: All Neighbors Welcome” recommendations for anti-displacement strategies and policies. I stand by all of this, but it’s going to be awhile before we return to the kind of growth and expansion phase we’d been expecting to head into prior to the global pandemic.

Since we will be living through this pandemic for quite some time, we must seek out as much emergency funding as we can get from the Feds and the State, and use that, as best we can, to keep people in their homes. Since Portland is a small business town, finding emergency funds to keep local businesses afloat is also crucial. With adequate funding, not only will these businesses be able to restart once we’re able to “open” up again, but they will also be able to keep their employees on the payroll in the meantime, which will help keep people in their homes and able to pay their bills.

The response from the Federal government has been too little too late. The local governments have limited resources, but we must dig deep to try to support people living on the margins and small businesses so we can ensure a speedier recovery and not leave a vacuum for big corporate interests to fill in the wake of this disaster.

 

4. What is your strategy to bring East Portland’s street infrastructure up to the standard of the rest of the city?

Not to sound like a broken record, but with system change and increased representation from East Portland, I guarantee that we will finally be able to bring sidewalks and safer streets to East Portland. The amount of money needed to create sidewalks (without forcing working-class and low-income households to pay for them out-of-pocket) is not an insurmountable amount of funding to come up with for the sake of creating safe routes to schools in every single East Portland neighborhood–the lack of political will has been the issue.

When City leaders are in the midst of creating a budget, and as the Transportation Commissioner looks at the citywide priorities, they should always think twice about investing close in Southeast or Downtown for sidewalk or roundabout repairs when they know that there are miles of unpaved roads and streets without sidewalks all over outer Southeast Portland. The City must apply an economic justice lens to how it invests its infrastructure dollars. Until East Portland and other disadvantaged areas are brought up to par with the rest of the city, funding needs to be disproportionately allocated to the parts of the city that need it most. I‘ll work with other Commissioners and across bureaus to ensure better street infrastructure in East Portland regardless of which bureaus are assigned to me.

While it goes without saying, I will reiterate that my push for system change is largely predicated on the fact that East Portland streets are in such bad shape: it is the number one indicator of how incredibly underserved and underrepresented East Portland has been. No one else running for this seat is as committed as I am to ensure better outcomes for East Portland, and improving our streets is an especially big priority for me. That is why I would like to end by saying that I wholeheartedly support the Fix Our Streets Ballot Measure 26-209, on the ballot this May! The extra 10-cents per gallon at the pump will lead to $75 million to fill potholes, build sidewalks, safe routes to schools, better traffic lights, and better bike lanes–all things we need in East Portland. In short, the Fixing Our Streets ballot measure will help provide the desperately needed funding for exactly the kinds of street improvement projects East Portland needs the most. Please vote yes of Fix Our Streets as well as voting for me for Portland City Council.

 

5. If you are elected, what is your vision of East Portland a decade from now? What is your strategy to get us there?

My vision includes a far more functional and representative city government that has long-term plans driven by sound data and predictions, which are revisited and adjusted over time as we see what works and what doesn’t. I see a city where community members are regularly and directly involved in governmental decision-making processes, offering real direction to publicly-funded projects and programs where they live. I see safer streets in walkable neighborhoods with more affordable housing, greenspaces, and parks in every part of East Portland. If we’re not there yet, there will be plans with funded benchmarks that show us how we’ll get there within the next five to ten years.

I hope to see participatory budgeting where community members actively chose how to spend real public money on community projects, such as parks, which are a huge priority in East Portland. I hope to be piloting a participatory budgeting process for parks in East Portland by the end of my first term serving on Portland City Council.

Hopefully, 10 years from now we will be well into the re-jurisdiction and improvement of 82nd Avenue to make it into a real neighborhood street that’s multimodal and safe for pedestrians and cyclists, and that also has more transit service on it. I want to see a doubling of transit service in East Portland, with more hubs with busses going in all four directions. This kind of grid system is very achievable in East Portland, and we desperately need more North-South routes and increased frequency. I see a stronger local workforce in East Portland that helped improve their neighborhoods rather than being displaced by the new development. I also see adequate housing, including supportive housing for everyone, with no one living on the streets any more.

Overall, I see East Portland becoming a more beautiful, green, walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly place with cleaner air and adequate housing stock at every income level. I want East Portland to be the place where we slow or stop gentrification by actually succeeding with our anti-displacement efforts. I see a more liveable, safe, vibrant East Portland a decade from now with more political representation and democratic engagement. Lastly, I see East Portland better represented and empowered on the City Council to create the policies and implement the projects that improve all east Portland communities. As an EPAP member I hope to achieve these improvements to east Portland together!

 

◄ Return to Other Candidate Responses