2012 Portland City Council election: Steve Novick vs Mark White vs Jeri Williams
From Portland Afoot
This guide to the 2012 Portland City Council race between Steve Novick, Mark White and Jeri Williams for Portland City Commissioner Position 4 was part of Portland Afoot's low-car voter guide for 2012. Interviews were planned and conducted for Portland Afoot by active transportation advocate Aaron Brown.
Novick won the May 15 primary outright, with 75.6 percent of the vote. Scott McAlpine came in second, with 7.9 percent, followed by Jeri Williams with 5 percent, Leah Marie Dumas with 4.3 percent and Mark White with 3.8 percent.
 Relevant endorsements
Bike Walk Vote, the leading electoral organization for Portland bicycling community, endorsed Steve Novick based on his questionnaire, though it decided not to interview the other candidates because it didn't consider them sufficiently viable. The Oregon League of Conservation Voters also backed Novick.
There was no overwhelming favorite in the race among other local politicians.
 Policy positions
 On streetcar expansion
With the Portland to Lake Oswego streetcar project tabled, would you like to see the city continue to invest in Mayor Adams' Streetcar Plan?
Novick: Probably not. "My immediate reaction to the Lake Oswego streetcar plan being tabled is that if we actually had the funding available to subsidize that, which I don’t think we really did, but if we had had that money, I would like to see it reinvested in frequent bus service along 122nd, or expanding the sidewalk network, and improving existing transit and building more access to existing transit. My instinct is to do that rather than continuing to spend this on streetcar expansion."
White: Only if its new neighborhoods can pay for it. "I was actually very – appalled, is the best word for it. Why would we even consider this (Lake Oswego) project when the rest of the city is so lacking in transportation infrastructure? I was very pleased to see it go away. Personally, I’m a big fan of streetcar, but I’ve been very concerned that it doesn’t get past 7th Avenue, and there’s 165 blocks to go east. ... If we can’t find a way for people that live there to use it or to pay for it, it becomes a challenge. If we were to have a major earthquake, one of the first things to go will be the rail. If we’re dependent on rail, it leaves us on a lurch. If there was rail, I’d like to see a bus service changed to create express routes serving the major transportation corridors, and the ability for the streetcars to serve the surrounding neighborhoods."
Williams: Doesn't know. "I don’t actually have a good answer for that."
 On transit budgets
What can the city do to make transit more cost-effective?
Novick: Lower public workers' health premiums with better wellness care, and make it easier to reach transit. "I was really captivated by a story I read in the New Yorker last year. ... The casino workers union in Atlantic City, they had their own health care costs exploding and they brought in some smart health care brains that convinced them to start their own little primary health care clinic outside of the regular health care system. … Let’s say the city and TriMet started by identifying their highest cost people, and developing a clinic for them. And then pulling in other employers and unions to do the same thing. ... The other thing is obviously you make transit more effective by making it easier for people to get to transit. Safe Routes to School, building sidewalks. ... Continuing to focus on holding the urban growth boundary, focusing on density, be willing to in some neighborhoods build up – I know that’s contentious, but I think that density makes transit more cost-effective."
White: Develop a city that requires less travel. "Peak oil and climate change are going to drive everything up; how do we make things more affordable for folks? For me, I think it’s investing in infrastructure to allow people to get around easily, whether it's bus, bicycle, foot. It’s also about making balanced and blended neighborhoods, making it easy for folks to get from one place to another, and having employment near where people live so people to try and reduce the amount of public transportation that they have to use."
Williams: Raise fares for people who ride transit to work. "I work for the city currently, and we get reduced prices on our bus passes. This isn’t going to be popular, but maybe we should have a tiny increase it could make a change in the budget for TriMet. You know, we are the people who have jobs. … When you look at people who can’t afford to pay the $2 and end up paying a $175 fine, for me, that really strikes a chord on criminalizing a lot of people in to poverty. There’s something wrong with that picture. ... And we need to make sure we’re not cutting bus lines in the most historically underserved communities, including East Portland."
 On gas tax
Would you be willing to go lobby the Oregon Senate and House for a statewide gas tax or mileage fees?
Novick: Yes. "Yes. And ultimately, hopefully, fuel efficiency will be so high that the gas tax really will be even more declining source of revenue than it is now. So we’ll have to go to things like mileage tax. ... Gas taxes are high now, and people don’t like gas taxes. We’re going to have to do a lot of education to explain to people that transportation costs money and the money really isn’t keeping up with the need. And the other thing that’s difficult about that is that when people are mostly using roads, then you run into the problem that the city has now, where in order to have the money to invest in multimodal transportation, just to build sidewalks, then we’re short-changing road maintenance. ... The Oregonian article a few weeks ago about the screaming headlines about the 'roads are crumbling because the money is going to bike lanes and conferences' was, I think, dangerous and ridiculous, but it also demonstrates what a difficult conversation it is.
 On anti-congestion tolling
Would you be proactive in encouraging anti-congestion tolling on private automobiles on facilities such as the Sylvan Tunnel or I-84?
White: No. "My first preference, instead of tolling, would be to try and work with all of the larger employers in the area to coordinate some four-day work weeks. ... I’d also like to take a page from the Bay Area; when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit, they had traffic going in two directions during rush hour, they would bring in a machine to move the concrete dividers over. ... I’d probably try those things first before adding tolling, because it is another layer of government."
 On transit-friendly housing
It is becoming increasingly difficult to find cheap housing near transit amenities. What role should the city play in encouraging workforce housing near transit?
Novick: Convince the state to allow inclusionary zoning and rent control. "Given our existing legal tools, it’s difficult. ... I like being able to say, 'When you’re doing a development, you have to have some that is dedicated to moderate income housing.' I like rent control, for that matter. I would like to ask the legislature to give us those tools. ... The primary tools cities use is the 30% urban renewal set aside, but that obviously only works when you are using urban renewal money to subsidize development."
White: Subsidize job development along transportation corridors and pass a property tax levy for affordable housing. "It’s actually kind of a complicated issue, because there’s data that suggests that children who live near transportation corridors have higher rates of asthma. That’s where rail comes in … I’d like to revise urban renewal so that ... major transportation corridors have employment pockets, where there are family wage jobs they can access without having to travel. A recent study said that 9 out of 10 folks in East Portland leave the area for employment; that’s clearly unsustainable. ... I would certainly be interested in putting a housing levy forward, as they have in Seattle."
Williams: Involve transit riders in more decision-making. "We need to do more workforce housing near transit, but we need to look at these other issues too. Can folks get to their job? Can they afford to get to their job? ... Rarely has TriMet or the City of Portland ever looked at how it affects people at the bottom. ... You cannot make decisions about communities that are most directly affected without having them at the table."
 On the Columbia River Crossing
The CRC project continues to make headlines for its inability to clear political and engineering hurdles. Given the uncertain state of the CRC project, would you ever sign off on a bridge without light rail, a bike/walking route and tolling?
Novick: Not for a new inter-state bridge without all those. "If you are talking about a new actual Vancouver to Portland bridge, no. ... Given what we know are the effects of tolling on traffic, I think that it doesn’t make sense to have your whole project fixed in your mind before you’ve seen the effects of tolling. It should be a staged process where you toll before you decide what the whole thing looks like."
White: We shouldn't require light rail unless Clark County wants it, and shouldn't have tolling unless I-205 is also tolled. "Personally, I don’t support the bridge at all. ... I think it was done to force Vancouver to accept light rail. While I think that’s a good goal, I think its better to actually go to the folks in Vancouver, include them in the conversation from beginning to end. … Folks in Clark County actually want to consider light rail, but they don’t want to be told that they have to do it. I’m totally against tolling because all it's going to do is force traffic over to I-205 and have very negative impacts on the communities of color that now exist in East Portland. Not cool, and [if I’m elected] not going to happen."
Williams: No. "I served on the I-5 task force for ten years. … We kept asking for more information and we never received around diesel emissions, around potential air pollution. ... Myself, representing the environmental justice action group (EJAG) was one of only two no votes on the entire task force. And we’ve been challenging the CRC ever since. It’s like the story that will enver end! But no, I would not support it without bike and ped, and what I would like to call a transportation demand management."
 On Sunday Parkways
As Commissioner, will you continue to support city funds for Sunday Parkways?
Novick: If possible, but it's not top priority. "I can’t answer that until I see what the budget looks like when I get there. If we’re making 4, 6, 8 % cuts … I would like to continue to support it, but I haven’t yet seen the cut proposals that I’m going to see when I’m [elected]. If you’re looking at cutting funds for SUN school programs as opposed to supporting Sunday Parkways, I don’t know how you answer that."
White: Yes, but not indefinitely. "Yes. However, I would like it to be eventually turned over to a nonprofit organization that could use any profits that they made from the event to be reinvested into the community. I have another similar idea for a program like that; it’s called 'Bike the Buttes.' Like the Bridge Pedal, people go from butte to butte and have educational opportunities at each one, and have it be a fundraiser for the schools in the area."
Williams: Yes. "I live across the street from Peninsula Park. One day out of the year, I’m totally ready to go across the street to the park and there’s no way to get out! You see a bunch of happy families, many different communities coming together and creating something great. So yes, I would continue to support funding."
 On TriMet reform
Some riders complain that because TriMet's management answers to the governor's office in Salem, local transit riders' needs are neglected. Would you, as an elected official, support any initiative involving reforming TriMet for more local control?
Novick: Yes. "Absurdly, I hadn’t really thought about that before. ... In the abstract, yes. It’s a regional service and it should have regional governance. We’d have to work out the details of the governance, and I think that'd be hard."
White: Yes!! "Can you put some exclamation points after that 'yes'?"
Williams: Yes. "Yes, I think there should be more local control. ... I would like to see more community people to be actually serving on the board that would give the board more say, and less talking-head type people."
 On high school transit passes
What if anything would you do to continue YouthPass after it expires in May of 2012?
Note: State law requires all school districts to provide transportation to low-income high schoolers who attend their neighborhood school but live more than 1.5 miles away. Because PPS does not use yellow buses, PPS would continue to buy these students TriMet passes even if the universal YouthPass program ends, so YouthPass only affects students who don't meet all those criteria.
Novick: Restrict it to low-income students and look for new revenue sources. "I think the city should try to find the money. … I think you have to target it to low income populations. I think that that gets into the general question of 'How are we going to support all of our transportation needs?' There, I think you get into the discussion of going to more metered parking in other areas of the city, and going to variable parking the way like San Francisco. Perhaps reviving Mayor Adams’ street maintenance fee proposal from a few years ago. I think that whenever we talk about funding anything related to transportation, we also need to talk about the general funding problems ... but I do think that (Youth Pass) is a pretty high priority."
White: Pay for it with city dollars, but offer it to all school districts. "First I’d want to make it equitable throughout the city (so) the amount of money being saved by PPS for the youth pass is also passed on to other school districts. ... I think it can come out of the general fund, but folks have to realize that if you pay for something from the general fund, something else isn’t going to get paid for."
Williams: Whatever it takes. "Many times people forget that Youth Pass was actually created by a group called Sisters in Action for Power, which I was one of the founding members of way back in the 90s. I did support the Youth Pass, it’s ridiculous to think that we’re going to get our kids to stay in school any other way, and our graduation rates prove that. Yes, we have to support Youth Pass, no matter what." Note: Williams seems to be referring to TriMet's reduced youth fare, which was a key accomplishment of Sisters in Action for Power, not the free YouthPass program launched in 2009.
 On the candidates' favorite places
And finally: What's your favorite public transit facility and your favorite active transportation facility?
Novick: The Steel Bridge and Hawthorne Bridge. "My favorite MAX ride is going across the Steel Bridge. … You can look both to the north and to the south and see a gorgeous view. When I used to live on Hawthorne, I loved the 14, because it ran all the time. One of my favorite walking routes is just back and forth across the Hawthorne Bridge."
White: 122nd and Powell, and the Springwater Corridor. "It’s kind of an unfair question, because I can only go by what’s around where I live. I can’t even tell you how many stops are around me in east Portland that don’t even have a platform. I would say my favorite stop is 122nd and Powell, because it’s clearly the best example of what the transportation inequity is in the city. (Favorite walking/biking facility.) The Springwater Corridor, since it’s close to my house."
Williams: The 4, and Peninsula Park. "I’ve lived in Portland since 1989, and I’ve always been not far from the 4. It’s taken me to college classes, it drops me off at work, it used to take me to the grocery store. It’s my favorite line. I have diabetes, so walking is incredibly important to me. I love walking around Peninsula Park in North Portland."
 See also
- 2012 Portland mayoral election: Eileen Brady vs Charlie Hales vs Jefferson Smith
- 2012 Portland City Council election: Steve Novick vs Mark White vs Jeri Williams
- 2012 Portland City Council election: Amanda Fritz vs Mary Nolan
- 2012 Metro District 5 election: Sam Chase vs Helen Ying
- 2012 Metro District 6 election: Jonathan Levine vs Bob Stacey
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