Willie Weed: Boom Goes The Neophyte

ILLUSTRATION: Hawk Krall

By Wm. Willard Greene

Some day in the near future, your neighborhood is likely to be rocked by an explosion. The force will probably to be minor: enough to blow out a few windows and maybe some drywall.

You’ll wonder whether the big one’s finally come, or your neighbors improperly installed their gas water heater, or a chemistry teacher afflicted with late-stage cancer decided to manufacture methamphetamine.

This theoretical explosion will not be caused by the po-po or a ceremonial meth cook simply living out the customs and rituals of a bygone culture. No, friends, our theoretical explosion will be due to the illegal marijuana trade. At least that’s how the media frame this scene. Your violently conservative familial relations will see the news that a marijuana grow house done blowed up.

“They’re exploding now? Evil is rising, Willie,” said my own such relation, a man born during World War II. “Houses didn’t explode when I was young.”

He’s right that marijuana wasn’t previously associated with blowing up. Recently, explosions associated with marijuana production rocked Forest Grove and Gresham. One of the men caught in the Gresham inferno died from his injuries.

Often, these incidents are reported as explosions at “grow operations.” In truth, the fiery booms have little to do with soil or fertilizer or plant matter or even high-wattage lighting. Rather, they’re caused by the haphazard preparation of butane hash oil. BHO is made by stripping plant matter of its cannabinoids and oils in a solvent bath. In most BHO preparation, the leftover butane is then boiled or vacuumed away, and proper ventilation mitigates the danger. Other times—particularly when morons are involved—a spark ignites the butane, and aspiring pot magnates wake up in the burn ward—or they wake up dead.

The end product is a concentrated form of cannabis that resembles earwax, and is commonly sold as shatter, oil or wax. The commander of the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force recently called BHO “the crack cocaine of marijuana,” which is a bit like referring to Jimmy Carter as “the Stalin of American presidents.” There are numerous advantages to concentrated grass, most of which have nothing to do with potency. For medical patients, concentrates offer easy portability, and contrary to the crack comparisons, dosage levels are still easily manageable despite considerably higher THC levels (usually in the 80-to-90-percent range, compared to the approximately 20 percent found in strong bud). Obviously, the higher potency raises the potential for marijuana abuse, but most wax is vaporized and inhaled in small amounts.

So how much should you worry about the scourge of weed bombs? What I’d like to do is give you a warm mug of whole milk and sing you lullabies, only with the lyrics altered to assure the listener that BHO explosions are nothing to worry about. But in truth, marijuana is only going to become more available, and while weed’s availability to responsible consumers is a sea change worthy of frenzied applause, the flip side is it will also be available to the sort of people who aren’t familiar with the concept that working with large amounts of butane in
enclosed areas is incredibly stupid.

Hyperbolic police officers in out-of-state suburbs aside, the citizens most angry at BHO proliferation are pro-cannabis advocates. The potential for random home explosions is a setback for the movement. The solution remains the same: If cannabis were legal, hash-oil production could be regulated and supervised. In other words, the cure is in the poison.

Onward Christian Voters

SHIFTING FOCUS: Kevin Palau, president of the Luis Palau Association, says he and other evangelical leaders in Oregon are done fighting same-sex marriage. IMAGE: Brian Lee

 

In 2007, host Ira Glass of This American Life came to Portland on a book tour and was scheduled to speak at the 1,500-seat New Hope Community Church in Happy Valley. He asked for a change of venue when he learned the evangelical church had three years earlier fought to pass a ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in Oregon.

When Kurt Kroon arrived the following year to start work as a pastor at New Hope, he says he was surprised at the church’s reputation as anti-gay.

“I was shocked that this was one of the dominant online conversations,” Kroon says. “That’s just not what we want to be known for.”

Most evangelicals still believe marriage should remain between one man and one woman. But many now question the intense political focus on same-sex marriage that drove the ban a decade ago.

“Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed I would have this feeling, but I think I’m with a lot of people in the evangelical camp,” says Janet Cotton, also a pastor at New Hope. “I don’t want people to think I’ve sold out my belief system, but I don’t want to be harsh and judgmental.”

Today, the Oregon Family Council, a key proponent of the 2004 same-sex marriage ban, is betting its evangelical base will rally behind an initiative allowing businesses to refuse to provide products and services—such as wedding cakes, flower arrangements and tuxedos and gowns—for same-sex wedding ceremonies.

But some of the state’s most prominent evangelical pastors say times have changed, and the Oregon Family Council can’t count on their congregations to fall in line.

“I honestly think they misjudged this,” says Gerry Breshears, a professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland. “Ten years ago, they carried a lot of political weight, and I don’t think they do anymore.”

The Oregon Family Council, which led the 2004 fight for the marriage ban, is backing the new measure. The group needs more than 87,000 signatures by July 3 to get the measure on the November ballot. The measure’s ballot title still requires approval by the Secretary of State’s Office before petitioners can start gathering signatures.

Tim Nashif, co-founder of the Oregon Family Council, says he’s not worried about getting the measure on the ballot.

“People underestimate how fast we can move,” Nashif says. “At least they did until 2004.”

That year, Nashif led the effort to put Oregon’s same-sex marriage ban, Measure 36, on the ballot by collecting 244,000 signatures in just five weeks.

But Breshears and others say many evangelical churches have moved away from the same-sex marriage fight, which many see as lost.

“Historically, there’s been an unhealthy alignment of white evangelical churches with right-wing Republicans,” says Josh Butler, a pastor at Imago Dei Community in Portland. “We’re not trying to swing left, but we’re trying to create a space where followers can wrestle with this.”

Imago Dei and other evangelical churches have worked in partnership with Kevin Palau, an evangelical leader and president of the Luis Palau Association known for his friendship with Portland’s openly gay former mayor, Sam Adams. 

Palau says he and other evangelical leaders held a series of meetings with Adams and other city officials beginning in 2007 to shift from political issues to social ills such as hunger, homelessness and health care.

“We don’t want to be known for what we’re against, but what we’re for,” Palau says. “We’re seeing so much good being done by serving the community that there’s less energy being given to fighting political battles.”

Most Americans see evangelicals as unfriendly to gays and lesbians, according to a study released last month by the Public Religious Research Institute. But while fewer than one in five older evangelicals supports same-sex marriage, nearly half of millennial evangelicals do.

“Evangelical America is changing,” says Tom Krattenmaker, author of The Evangelicals You Don’t Know. “It’s becoming less and less like the situation we saw a decade ago. You won’t find evangelicals marching in lockstep.”

Adds Breshears: “Ten years ago, there was a feeling we could make a difference. Now there is not. Older evangelicals are saying, ‘We’ve been run over by the steamroller.’ Younger ones are saying, ‘What’s the issue?'”

Nashif says there are still plenty of evangelical churches in Oregon that will engage politically on the question of same-sex marriage and the Oregon Family Council’s new initiative.

“We don’t need the cooperation of pastors, and if they feel like they don’t want to participate,” he says. “If they do not feel their churches should get involved in a public-policy issue, I’d be the last person to ask them to do it.”

Initiative spokeswoman Teresa Harke says a 2013 survey conducted by Gateway Communications, a consulting company owned by Nashif and fellow Oregon Family Council co-founder Michael White, showed 75 percent support for a measure that allows businesses to object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds.

Cliff Good, pastor at Valley View Evangelical Church in Clackamas, says pastors struggle to respond to the quickening cultural shift.

At 66, Good counts himself among the older set. He opposes redefining marriage away from tradition, and says he’s glad Oregon law protects him from being forced to officiate for gay couples. 

“But if I own a business that sells cakes, that’s a whole different issue to me,” Good says. “€œThat’€™s not a marriage issue. That’s a business.”

 

–Kate Willson

The Great Race

ILLUSTRATION: Andrew Zubko

Multnomah County government is like plumbing: essential but only noticed when there’s a mess.

The most recent pipe break occurred last summer, when the tawdry personal life of then-Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen bubbled into public view. Cogen resigned under pressure in September after admitting to an affair with an underling and lying about the circumstances.

Now, the highest-stakes race facing the region’s voters in the May 20 primary is a matchup between two veteran politicians—Jim Francesconi and Deborah Kafoury—competing to fill out Cogen’s remaining term and go on to serve four more years in a position that paradoxically combines great power with near obscurity.

Consider: The county employs more than 4,500 people and has a $469 million general-fund budget—virtually as large as that of both the city of Portland and Portland Public Schools, the region’s two other big government entities.

Everybody knows what Portland Public Schools does. And many people know city government provides police, firefighters, streets and parks.

But few understand the role of Multnomah County chair. Bev Stein, who served as county chairwoman from 1993 to 2001, describes the work as “serving the needy and the naughty.”

In so doing, Multnomah County takes on some of the region’s most difficult and expensive challenges.

The county, under the auspices of the sheriff’s office, runs 1,200 jail beds at an annual cost of $107 million and spends another $50 million supervising ex-cons. The county also provides health care to one in 10 county residents, including tens of thousands grappling with mental illness. The library and its 18 branches, six Willamette River bridges and even Vector Control—the office that hunts down vermin—fall under the county’s control.

The county chair gets paid more than Portland’s mayor—$140,000 compared to $128,000 annually—and also wields far more authority over county staff, policy and budget than does the mayor over city staff, policy and budget. Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith reports to an elected board, and Mayor Charlie Hales shares the management of city bureaus with four commissioners who are nearly his equal. County commissioners, by contrast, have little authority. Most of that belongs to the chair.

“County chairs really have two big jobs,” Stein says. “They are in charge of the legislative part but also serve as the chief executive with all hiring, firing and budget-writing authority.”

(Steven Reynolds, James O. Rowell, Aquiles Montas, Wes Soderback and Patty Burkett are also running for county chair in the primary. Any candidate who wins a majority of the votes is elected outright. Otherwise, the top two finishers move on to a runoff.)

For Kafoury, the race is about strengthening the safety net on which the county’s most vulnerable citizens rely. She boasts one of Oregon’s most recognizable political names, legislative leadership experience and five years as a county commissioner.

For Francesconi, the race is a comeback from embarrassment. After serving two terms on the City Council, he entered the 2004 mayor’s race as a strong front runner but lost badly. Now, he’s seeking to rewrite the final chapter of his political career by running a campaign aimed at addressing poverty.

And for voters, it’s a chance to choose between two experienced politicians who both say they want to set county government on a new path.

Veteran lobbyist Len Bergstein says in 40 years of watching county races, this one could be the most competitive he’s seen.

“County chair races have rarely been seriously contested,” Bergstein says. “This is the best matchup we’ve had in a long time.”

JIM FRANCESCONI: “He’s hungry and looking for redemption”

TALKING ABOUT POVERTY: “We need more jobs in this county,” Jim Francesconi says. “It’s the whole idea of working with the high schools and community colleges to get kids ready. There’s no elected official doing that.”
IMAGE: Adam Wickham

Jim Francesconi, 61, has undergone two hip replacements. He moves gingerly, and his expression often settles somewhere between a wince and a grimace.

“The hips are OK,” he says, “but I’ve got some degeneration in my back.”

It’s hard not to see something else behind his expression: the memory of a defeat that for any politician would be difficult to shake.

Ten years ago, Francesconi let what many people believed was an easy election as mayor of Portland slip from his grasp.

He was then a two-term city commissioner who raised more than $1 million for the mayor’s race, shattering all previous fundraising records and scaring off serious challengers.

It was how Francesconi positioned himself that caused his campaign to unravel. He came to resemble an offshoot of the Portland Business Alliance and its powerful downtown members.

To many people, his corporate fundraising and message were inexplicable, given that he’d come to politics as a community organizer and lawyer for injured workers who often talked of representing the average voter.

In the end, Francesconi lost by 20 percentage points to former Portland Police Chief Tom Potter, who accepted only small campaign donations and proved a populist alternative to Francesconi’s big-money identity. The rout was so complete that Francesconi did not bother to vote for himself—the only time in 40 elections he failed to fill out a ballot.

“My greatest weakness?” Francesconi asks. “Wanting to be liked.”

He says he regrets the amount of money he raised in 2004 because it gave voters the wrong picture of who he is.

“I wanted to be mayor too badly,” Francesconi says. “I was running a corporate campaign. The result I got [losing by 20 points], I can see why that happened.”

Allies say a desire to avenge that 2004 defeat are a big part of why Francesconi, after a decade out of politics, is seeking election as Multnomah County chair.

“He’s hungry and looking for redemption,” says Joe Baessler, political director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that represents 2,800 county workers and has endorsed Francesconi.

Francesconi insists, however, that his motivation has nothing to do with himself and is all about Multnomah County’s neediest citizens.

“The thing I care most about is the people left out and left behind,” he says.

Francesconi doesn’t need a job. He’s a partner at Haglund Kelley, a downtown law firm, and a member of the Oregon University System board. He lives in an $780,000 home on Alameda Ridge in Northeast Portland and owns a vacation house in Sunriver.

Now, instead of running as the candidate of downtown business interests Portland’s 1 percent—he’s running to help the other 99.

He’s made his campaign about income inequality, talking about his four grandparents who came to the U.S. from Italy penniless.

“There are a lot of vulnerable people who need to be protected,” Francesconi says. “If the county doesn’t protect people, nobody else will.”

Francesconi grew up in Eureka, Calif., the son of a bartender father and bank teller mother. After graduating from Stanford, he served as a Jesuit volunteer in Portland for a year, running the gym at St. Andrew Catholic Church on pre-gentrification Northeast Alberta Street, before earning a law degree at the University of Oregon. He practiced personal injury law in Portland for 18 years and worked on projects such as helping gang kids find jobs.

Francesconi won election to the Portland City Council in 1996, and was best known for his tenure as parks commissioner. Under his leadership, the parks bureau passed a $48 million bond issue in 2002. He also partnered with then-Multnomah County Chairwoman Bev Stein to found the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) program, which serves low-income kids and has grown to include 70 schools in six Multnomah County districts.

On the City Council, though, he earned a reputation for being indecisive and giving lengthy soliloquies before even the most routine council votes.

He dithered over a long-running dog-park controversy. He wrote to President George W. Bush, asking him not to invade Iraq in 2003, then voted against a council resolution opposing that war. In 2004, when Multnomah County began marrying gay couples, he said he personally opposed gay marriage but thought it was legally defensible.

“He was not very effective,” says Dave Lister, who served on the small-business advisory committee that Francesconi created and who ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 2006. “Whoever had his ear last swayed his opinion.” € 

Francesconi now says he wishes he’d been more decisive. “I could have taken more risks as a city commissioner,” he says.

He cites a City Council vote that stripped work-force programs from the city-owned Portland Development Commission. “I should have done more for working people in that case,” he says. “I should have bucked everybody else.”

Since losing to Potter for mayor, he has resumed his law practice and also lobbied for clients such as Portland Community College, the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, and Moda Health. He co founded the Oregon Idea, a nonprofit aimed at increasing higher-education funding.

He also pursued a return to politics. In 2011, he talked to more than 100 people about running for mayor but stayed out of the race.

He now says the county chair’s job appeals to him because it’s where he can do the most good.

“The county’s approach is not effective at slowing the growth of poverty—it’s doubled here in the past 11 years,” he says.

Supporters say Francesconi has remade himself, returning to his social-justice roots.

“Jim Francesconi winces at the experience and the choices he made in the 2004 campaign,” says Tim Nesbitt, a former union leader and chief of staff to Gov. Ted Kulongoski, and a Francesconi supporter.

“He’s different and he’s thinking differently from when he was on the City Council,” says Genny Nelson, the retired co-founder of Sisters of the Road, which serves the homeless in Old Town. “He certainly wasn’t talking this way when he ran in 2004.”

Rather than focusing on the county’s core missions of public heath and public safety, however, Francesconi says he’ll make “job creation the central priority of my administration.”

Positioning a government that runs jails, health care and social services as a job-creating machine seems at odds with the county’s mission.

Jewel Lansing, author of books about Portland city government and Multnomah County, says Francesoni’s emphasis on economic development is misplaced. “That’s not a core function of county government,” says Lansing, who supports Kafoury.

Stein, the former county chairwoman, agrees. “The county’s role is helping people get healthy—preparing them so they can get jobs—but I’m not sure what it means to create jobs at the county level,” she says.

Stein also supports Kafoury, even though she worked closely with Francesconi to create the SUN program.

That snub is a theme in Francesconi’s endorsement list: None of the city commissioners or the mayor he served with is endorsing him. Nor are county commissioners from that time.

The major public employee unions, which can write big checks and activate platoons of members, are supporting Francesconi. He’s notched endorsements from AFSCME; the Service Employees International Union, the state’s largest union; and the Portland Association of Teachers.

But records obtained by WW show Francesconi won the SEIU and AFSCME endorsements after making explicit promises that, if elected, he would work to increase union membership under county contractors—something that could violate laws preventing elected officials from actively favoring unions. (See sidebar, below.)

Nesbitt says Francesconi brings a depth of experience and passion to the race that should outweigh any negatives.

“When you go through winning and losing and you bounce back,” Nesbitt says, “the resilience and the seasoning you get from that experience is tremendously valuable.”

DEBORAH KAFOURY: “She clearly can’t run as an outsider”

ALL IN THE FAMILY: “My mother taught me if you don’t care who gets the credit, you can get a lot done,” Deborah Kafoury says. “I’ve taken that to heart.”
IMAGE: Adam Wickham

In the past five years, no one worked more closely with then-Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen than Deborah Kafoury.

As the county commissioner representing parts of Southeast Portland and the west side, Kafoury leveraged the skills she had acquired in legislative leadership a decade ago to help Cogen restore luster to the county board.

They got the long-stalled Sellwood Bridge replacement project moving, opened a new Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center for urgent mental-heath conditions, and worked closely together to strengthen the county’s troubled finances.

But that closeness ended last July when Cogen admitted to having an affair with a county staffer. He resigned in September, creating both a burden and an opportunity for Kafoury.

She was his obvious successor but also had to quickly distance herself from him.

She says Cogen let the public—and her–down.

“My colleagues and I wanted to raise the credibility of Multnomah County, work hard, show results and be professional,” Kafoury says. “We all kept our end of the bargain. Jeff didn’t.”

Kafoury’s dilemma is that for most of her five years as a county commissioner, she and her colleagues did make significant progress, only to see the county once again wind up as a punch line.

In addition to distancing herself from Cogen, Kafoury has also run on the strength of what she accomplished while working alongside him.

“I can’t control what happened to Jeff Cogen, but the rest of us worked hard to maintain services,” Kafoury says. “I don’t believe one person’s actions should define a government.”

She resigned her seat in October, giving up the security of incumbency to run against Jim Francesconi, a trial lawyer who throws out subtle reminders of the county’s troubles.

“There’s been instability in county government,” he told the audience at a recent Gateway Area Business Association candidate forum. “It’s unsettling.”

Pacific University political science professor Jim Moore says Kafoury must walk a tightrope. “She clearly can’t run as an outsider,” Moore says. “So she’s got to show that when she was at the county, she was a change agent and that change was successful.”

Kafoury grew up in Portland politics. Her father, lobbyist Stephen Kafoury, served eight years in the Legislature in the 1970s and later on the Portland School Board. Her mother, Gretchen Kafoury, served in the Legislature, the county commission and spent two terms on the City Council. Her stepmother, Marge Kafoury was an elected Metro councilor and is now a lobbyist, and her uncle Greg Kafoury has earned headlines as a top trial lawyer. (She has one sibling, a younger sister, Katharine, who’s a personal trainer and apolitical.)

Deborah Kafoury’s husband, Nik Blosser, owns Celilo Group Media, which produces the Chinook Book. He’s a former political consultant and a co-founder and current board chairman of the Oregon Business Association and chairman of Sokol Blosser, one of Oregon’s oldest wineries.

Kafoury says growing up in a political family put her face to face with the people the county serves.

“Many of the reasons I’m running come from my mother,” she said at a recent candidate forum.”When I was young, we frequently had guests who were homeless or escaping domestic violence.”

Kafoury, 46, has built a lengthy political résumé of her own. She won her first election in fifth grade, defeating future City Commissioner Erik Sten in the race for class president. “It still stings,” Sten says.

After graduating from Whitman College, Kafoury worked for U.S. Rep. Les AuCoin, then as a researcher and political consultant. After that, she worked for her father’s lobbying firm before winning election to the Oregon House as a Democrat in 1998. In her second term, at age 33, she rose to minority leader at a time when Republicans controlled both legislative chambers.

She remains the youngest woman ever to hold that position, although because Republicans enjoyed a 35-to-25 majority in her final term, Democrats were largely irrelevant.

“We disagreed on policy,” says state Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend), who was then House Republican leader. “But she always acted with the highest integrity, and I trusted her.”

As a caucus leader, Kafoury was more involved in strategy than specific legislation. But she helped pass bills that increased the childcare tax credit for working families and resulted in new funding for domestic violence victims. “Deborah was a strong and highly organized leader,” says Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum (D-Portland), who entered the House with Kafoury in 1999.

As the caucus leader, Kafoury was senior to legislative classmate Jeff Merkley, who went on to become a U.S. senator. Had she stayed in the Legislature, Kafoury might be House speaker or hold statewide office. But she walked away from Salem after the 2003 session to concentrate on raising her children, now ages 13, 10 and 8.

She returned to electoral politics in 2008, winning a seat on the county commission over token opposition and just as easily winning re-election in 2012.

Asked to give herself a grade on the five years she spent as a county commissioner, Kafoury initially awards herself a B+. When pressed on what could have gone better, she says she cannot think of anything.

“Maybe I’ll give myself an A,” she says.

Unlike city commissioners, who are elected at large and have direct authority over assigned city bureaus, the county’s four elected commissioners are elected by geographic districts and have no specific policy responsibilities.

Kafoury points to the execution of the Sellwood Bridge replacement project as her top accomplishment at the county. She drew on her relationships in Salem including with state Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro)—to convince lawmakers to provide a total of $35 million for the bridge.

“I came up with a plan where others had not been able to,” Kafoury says.

She spent most of her time working on homelessness and housing issues.

“Deborah’s always been a great defender of protecting and defending human services,” says Steve Weiss, who, as a board member of the Community Alliance of Tenants and Independent Living Resources, has dealt with the county on housing and disability issues.

The county chair race against Francesconi marks the first time Kafoury has ever faced an opponent with the experience and resources to give her a real challenge.

On the stump, Kafoury is stiffer than Francesconi, whose years as a trial lawyer and experience running for mayor and the City Council (Francesconi beat Sten and Gail Shibley, who is now Mayor Charlie Hales’ chief of staff) sharpened his speaking skills. 

At a recent candidate forum held by an east county business group, Kafoury gave a tone-deaf response to a question about her top priority for capital spending.

She told the audience she had secured $15 million from the Legislature to do preliminary work for a new Multnomah County courthouse.

Kafoury points to studies that show the current courthouse would collapse in an earthquake and is otherwise obsolete.

She seemed oblivious to the unlikelihood business people east of I-205 would be enthused about a downtown project absorbing scarce county cash.

Francesconi pounced on her answer. “We don’t have the money for a courthouse. That will cost $210 million,” he said. “For me, the priority is roads and sidewalks for east county.” His response drew more smiles and nods from the audience than Kafoury’s answer.

Kafoury says she’s not very good at selling herself.

“I don’t toot my own horn,” she says. “I don’t go out and give speeches to give myself accolades.”

Critics say Kafoury is insular, sticking close to her home in Eastmoreland, one the city’s most affluent neighborhoods. The one current county commissioner who has endorsed Francesconi, Diane McKeel, represents east county. The mayors of Fairview, Wood Village and Troutdale have also endorsed Francesconi.

“Deb has not showed up for a major event in east county in the last five years,” says Troutdale Mayor Doug Daoust. “I never did see her out here. I think Jim sees us as partners, and Deborah sees us as an interest group at election time.”

“There’s life beyond 162nd Avenue,” adds Fairview Mayor Mike Weatherby. “He just seems to understand that better than she does.”

Kafoury says she’s been to plenty of east county events, noting that four of Gresham’s city councilors support her.

Her central campaign message—strengthening the safety net for the county’s most vulnerable citizens—is less sexy than Francesconi’s promise to focus on creating jobs. She says it’s also more realistic.

“The best way Multnomah County can help with economic development is by doing our job well,” Kafoury says. “Nobody else is tasked with providing services that we provide. If we provide them efficiently, that allows more people to do what they are capable of.”

Former County Chairwoman Stein echoes many supporters when she says that Kafoury understands the county’s mission better and has the long-term commitments to prove it.

“I have nothing against Jim,” Stein says. “She’s just better prepared to take on the county role. She’s got the background, and she’s really good at building relationships.”

Sten, who served on the City Council with Francesconi for six years, and served as a City Hall aide to Gretchen Kafoury before that, is also endorsing Kafoury.

“She is more experienced, more current and has shown a better track record of bringing her colleagues together,” Sten says. “She knows the budget inside and out and is that unusual candidate who can bring new skills to an office that needs it while also providing continuity.”

To win union endorsements, Francesconi made big promises.

IMAGE: Adam Wickham

Jim Francesconi won key endorsements from two public employee unions after pledging that, if elected Multnomah County chairman, he would use his influence to increase the number of union workers employed by county contractors.

Francesconi also said he would require that the buildings the county owns or rents employ union janitors and security guards.

He made those pledges in writing last month in response to questions from the Service Employees International Union, the state’s largest labor union. SEIU and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest county workers union, later endorsed Francesconi.

If he wins and carries out his pledges, Francesconi could run afoul of a state law that prohibits elected officials from using their influence to favor union organizing. The Public Employer Accountability Act, passed by the Legislature in 2013, states, “A public employer may not use public funds to support actions to assist, promote or deter union organizing.” The law covers an agency’s employees and “employees of its subcontractors.”

Another state law prohibits a political candidate from offering an incentive in exchange for an endorsement.

Francesconi made the promises on a questionnaire sent to him and his chief opponent, Deborah Kafoury. Candidates routinely fill out questionnaires for interest groups as part of the endorsement process. Francesconi’s campaign provided his answers to WW.

One of the questions that SEIU, which represents custodians, posed was this:

“Many state, local and federal contracting standards take into account things like wages, benefits, training, and labor relations. What standards do you think are important to awarding contracts?”

“I would like to work with SEIU and AFSCME to assist in unionizing nonprofit county contractors that do not pay living wages,” Francesconi wrote. “I also want to mention that the county is a major renter and property owner in the county and should require that all buildings are served by union cleaners [and] security guards.”

Multnomah County spends more than $100 million a year on outside contracts, each approved and signed by the chair, who has a degree of budget and decision making authority far greater than that of Portland’s mayor.

Francesconi’s response carries an implicit promise to the unions: They will get more members, more dues and more clout. The benefits he’s seeking are the endorsements, contributions and manpower the unions can bring to his campaign.

When WW asked Francesconi about the SEIU questionnaire, he initially said: “I didn’t write this. It’s wrong.”

In a later phone message, he backtracked. “I overreacted,” he said. “I’m standing by that language.”

In a subsequent interview that day, Francesconi said “assisting in unionizing” would not create a conflict with state law that prohibits public officials from helping unions in their organizing efforts.

“How you ‘assist’ is by making sure contractors have neutrality agreements,” he says. “The assistance has to be within the confines of the law.”

Francesconi acknowledges that his answer about “requiring” buildings that rent space to the county have unionized janitors and security guards went too far.

“The language is too strong,” he says. “You can’t require that.”

However, Francesconi says his answer to SEIU about increasing union membership was not an offer of something of value in exchange for an endorsement.

“It’s not a quid pro quo,” Francesconi says. “I think the unions view me as somebody who’s trying to close the gap between rich and poor. I’m very proud of standing up for working people.”

Keith Cunningham-Parmeter, an associate professor at Willamette University College of Law, says no matter how much public officials may like or dislike unions, they must remain neutral. That means not using the public’s checkbook to help unions add members.

“The law says employers cannot use public funds to encourage or discourage union membership,” he says.

Cunningham-Parmeter says, in his opinion, Francesconi appears to be offering a quid pro quo.

“The candidate is saying that with greater union support for him will come greater rates of unionization for them,” he says.

Portland pollster Adam Davis, who has worked in politics for 30 years but is not involved in the county chair race, says he’s never heard of a candidate making such a bold proposition.

“Whoa,” Davis said when WW shared Francesconi’s response. “I haven’t heard of anything like that before in Oregon.”

SEIU political director Felisa Hagins says Francesconi has done nothing wrong. She believes Francesconi’s pledge to “assist in unionizing” and “require all buildings are served” by union cleaners and security guards violates no law and is not a quid pro quo.

“That’s absurd,” Hagins says. “A quid pro quo has to be very specific, like, ‘If you give me $10,000 and an endorsement, I’ll guarantee you 30 new union jobs.’ That’s not even close to what he said.”

Hagins says SEIU, which represents about 600 workers employed by county contractors, endorsed Francesconi because he performed better in the candidates’ joint interview.

“Our members felt strongly because he came in with a message about income inequality that resonated with their working lives,” Hagins says. “Deborah was not as able to articulate the good work she’s done.”

AFSCME statewide political director Joe Baessler says he was unaware of what Francesconi wrote to SEIU.

Baessler attended AFSCME’s interview with Francesconi and says the candidate made no such representations then or in any other communications he’s aware of.

“Our members like Deborah,” Baessler says. “But as one of them said, ‘Jim comes across as more of a fighter.'” NIGEL JAQUISS.

You Too Are Made of Stars (Wobbly Dance)

TOTALLY TUBULAR: Yulia Arakelyan and husband Erik Ferguson.
IMAGE: Ward Shortridge
BY AARON SPENCER

Yulia Arakelyan remembers the first day
of an improv dance class led by an experimental choreographer from San
Francisco. “€œThe elevator was broken that day,” she says. “€œI was carried
up three flights of stairs, paid for this class, and then the first
thing he said was, ‘€˜You know, I don’t think this class is appropriate
for you.’€™ I was just like, bloody hell.”

As a
disabled dancer, the 31-year-old Arakelyan can’t do everything other
dancers do, but she doesn’t let them set the rules. “I’m going to decide
what’s appropriate for me or not,” she says. In 2007, she became the
first disabled graduate of the University of Washington’s dance program.
The year before, she and husband Erik Ferguson, also a wheelchair user,
founded Portland dance company Wobbly. She and Ferguson perform this
weekend, both in chairs and out, as a part of Arakelyan’s New Expressive
Works
residency at Studio 2.

“Associating
disability and dance creates a seeming contradiction,” says the
38-year-old Ferguson, who was born disabled. “By not arguing with the
contradiction, we force people to think differently about what
disability is.” 

Arakelyan
was also born disabled. Her family, Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan,
moved to Seattle when she was 10. At 19, she first saw a performance by
Seattle’s Light Motion Dance Company, a duo with one able-bodied dancer
and one, Charlene Curtiss, in a wheelchair. The classic fluidity of
Curtiss’ movement and the athleticism of her wheelies and spins awoke
something in Arakelyan.

“It
opened up my world,” she says. “I discovered my body. I realized before
that I kind of ignored it, like it was not my own. All these medical
things were done to me—surgeries and therapy, and I hated all of it. I
remember the very first dance class, I was like, ‘Wow.’ I have these
cells and muscles, and they all just started moving. Life made sense.”

In
her ballet classes, while other students extended their legs in tendus,
Arakelyan stuck out her arm. Instead of pirouettes, she’d roll her head.
Constant adaptation made her a good improviser. Same goes for Ferguson,
a farm boy from rural Michigan who dove into contact improvisation in
college. The two met in 2005, when Ferguson asked Arakelyan to perform
with him. Arakelyan, painted white, threw scoured lemons around the
stage as a woman on crutches squashed them. Ferguson, wearing a skirt
weighed down with 30 pounds of lemons, was held up on his feet by two
able-bodied women. 

This weekend, in a piece called You Too Are Made of Stars,
the two cover themselves in white paint and medical tubing. It’s a
common theme for them, as Arakelyan’s ventilator tube is part of her
daily life. They focus on presence and intention with their gazes,
leaving their movement slow and simple. At one point, the two hold a
long medical tube between their mouths. The moment begins romantically,
almost sexually, but then turns dark: Arakelyan wraps the tube around
Ferguson’s neck and leaves him, dragging him a little on the floor.

They
had several arguments in creating the piece—it’s only the second duet
the two have created and performed. Yulia likes to go over details with a
level of repetition that bothers Ferguson, who thinks in big ideas. In
the end, though, they say that tension adds a palpable energy to the
piece. “It’s very much about all that happens between the gaze of two
people,” Ferguson says, “all the ways you express anger, passion, love
and truth in very few movements.”

SEE IT: Wobbly Dance is at Studio 2, 810 SE Belmont St., studiotwozoomtopia.com. 7:30 pm Friday-Sunday, March 28-30. $12.

House at the End of a Scam

FORECLOSURE WITH A VIEW: Andrew Wiederhorn’s former West Hills mansion is going up for auction after the businessman stopped making mortgage payments on the $6.8 million house. IMAGE: Wil Corwin

The most expensive home ever sold at a Multnomah County sheriff’s foreclosure auction will go on the block April 2.

It’s a 20,000-square-foot, $6.8 million mansion atop the Southwest Hills, the last Portland home owned by Andrew Wiederhorn.

The sale may be the final act in the scandalous financial history of Wiederhorn’s time here, a story that includes fraud, a trip to federal prison and a lot of empty-handed investors.

More than a decade ago, Wiederhorn was at the center of the financial meltdown of Capital Consultants, an investment company headed by another Portland power player, Jeff Grayson.

Wiederhorn grew up in Portland but since 2009 has lived in California, where his primary investment, the Fatburger fast-food chain, is headquartered.

He now lives in a Beverly Hills home (Zillow.com values it at $10 million) and is philosophical about the foreclosure.

“I haven’t lived in the house for five years,” he says of the Portland mansion. “And my family’s been out of it for four years.”

“I’m looking forward to not paying the utilities,” he adds.

Everything about the house is outsized—it’s got 10 bedrooms, an indoor basketball court with an ornate “W” painted on the floor, a 2,000-square-foot pool house and a five-car garage. Property taxes are $115,000 a year.

In 1995, before he’d turned 30, Wiederhorn paid $1.5 million for the Southwest Greenleaf Drive property previously owned by Sequent Computer Systems co-founder Casey Powell.

At the time, Wiederhorn was considered a business phenomenon. His company, Wilshire Financial Services Group, made its money buying bad loans at deep discounts. His stock in the company grew to be worth nearly $140 million when Wiederhorn was only 32. A 1997 Oregonian profile dubbed him the “$100 Million Dad.”

Wiederhorn says he plowed another $10 million into the Portland house, renovating and expanding it for his wife, Tiffany, and six children.

But his business cratered in 1999, amid a global debt crisis. Wilshire spiraled into bankruptcy, but that was the least of Wiederhorn’s problems.

He had formed a symbiotic relationship with Grayson, whose company handled union pension-fund investments. Grayson was actually running a Ponzi scheme, funneling money to Wiederhorn in exchange for personal loans.

When Wilshire collapsed, Grayson’s clients took the hit, resulting in what federal officials called the largest union pension fraud in U.S. history.

Grayson, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, pleaded guilty to fraud but suffered a stroke and never went to prison. He died in 2009 at age 67.

In June 2004, Wiederhorn pleaded guilty to federal charges of paying an illegal
gratuity and filing a false tax return. He was sentenced to 18 months in
prison; he served 14 months. The U.S. Securities and Exchange
Commission
sanctioned his new company, Fog Cutter Capital, for continuing to pay Wiederhorn’s salary and a $2 million bonus while he was imprisoned.

In 2011, Wiederhorn put the Portland house on the market for $6 million but found no buyers. 

Documents show that Wiederhorn today owes Citibank $4.3 million on the Portland house, a sum that is growing by more than $1,000 a day.

“I signed the house over to the bank a year ago,” Wiederhorn says. “After this, they’ll release me from the debt.”

Wiederhorn says he still owns a 9-acre oceanfront estate in Gearhart but that he’s done with Portland. “I don’t have any plans to live in Oregon,” he says.

Since his legal problems, Wiederhorn has focused on building Fatburger. Last year, he appeared on CBS’s Undercover Boss, where he portrayed himself as a benevolent CEO tripped up by bad legal advice but intent on making employees’ lives better.

Tom Chamberlain, president of the AFL-CIO of Oregon, scoffs at Wiederhorn’s claim to care about employees. He says union workers and pensioners are still dealing with the financial hit delivered by Grayson and Wiederhorn.

“To be able to ruin workers’ lives and then move down to L.A. to run a company and live in a very nice house is unbelievable,” Chamberlain says. “It’s a shining example of what’s wrong with our criminal justice system and our economy.”

Hotseat: Aziz Ansari

Image courtesy of PMK*BNC

Aziz Ansari has some of the sharpest standup out there right now. Unlike many other comics, the Parks and Recreation star doesn’t just stop at oddball observations, but puts in the necessary brain sweat to transform them into nuggets of gut-busting gold. At the moment, he’s at work on a book about relationships in the time of Twitter and Instagram—for proof of both his thoughtfulness and comic skill, listen to him explain to Conan O’Brien how texting has ruined dating.

His new tour, which hits Portland this week, is titled Modern Romance. We asked Ansari a few questions via email.

WW: You have a great bit on dick pics. How have they changed the face of modern romance?

Aziz Ansari: Dick pics are just another strange development that never existed before. I can’€™t even think of an analogous equivalent for past generations. There  hasn’€™t been any record of men in ancient cultures sketching pictures of their penis or carving dick pics into stone. Or maybe there is? I’ll have to look into it.

What is your idea of a perfect date?

I’m really a homebody these days. My perfect date would start with me and the lovely lady cooking a meal together at my house. I’€™d make us some nice cocktails, and after dinner we’d just chill out and watch Jurassic Park and/or Mrs. Doubtfire on Blu-ray.

What are your thoughts on Tinder?

This is a good story I heard about Tinder in one of our focus groups with a guy who lived in a small town. He turned on Tinder. It showed the first girl. He  swiped no. The second girl came up. He swiped no again. Then it said, that’™s all the girls in his area. He freaked out and thought, “€œOh shit! Can I go back?!” So many parts of that story sum up modern romance to me.

Do you use Snapchat? 

No, but I have seen it and kind of understand it. I might be too old for it. Besides penis photos, which I don’€™t send, I have no clue why I would want to send anyone a photo that disappears after a few seconds. That Flappy Bird ripoff that uses  Drake and Drake noises, on the other hand—that I totally get!


SEE IT: Aziz Ansari is at the Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 800-745-3000. 7 pm Wednesday and Friday, March 26 and 28. $46.50.

Idaho Bound

OUR OWN PUBLIC IDAHO: Brett Netson – IMAGE: Ryan Furtado

When Brett Netson pulled into Old Town Portland for the first time back in the early ’90s, to play Satyricon with his psychedelic punk band, Caustic Resin, he felt like a kid in a candy store—the sketchiest, most run-down candy store in the Northwest.

“Oh my God, it was beautiful,” says Netson, now a member of Built to Spill. “It was everything I ever wanted: drugs, prostitution, espresso drinks and art.” Coming from Boise, where cheap thrills were limited to pulling a steelhead out of the town’s eponymous river, the urban rot was exotic, even intoxicating. He’d been to Seattle, but found it too high-minded. Salt Lake City was, well, Salt Lake City. This place, though? It was the sleazebag paradise of his punk-rock dreams. “Back then, Portland was dangerous,”€ he says. “€œBoise’€™s not dangerous.”€ 

These days, of course, “dangerous” isn’t the first word often associated with Portland. But then, Boise has changed, too. It’s not exactly the new capital of sex, drugs or even espresso, but its arts scene has developed to the point that it can now support a huge, multi-day music festival. This week, 360 bands—including 48 from Portland—will descend on the City of Trees for Treefort, a sort of slimmed-down South By Southwest, with shows spread across multiple venues in downtown Boise. Now in its third year, the festival is headlined by national and international acts, including Run the Jewels, RJD2 and the Joy Formidable, and also features a film and tech component, but its true function is as a showcase for the emerging Pacific Northwest music scene. And by hosting, Boise is sending a message: We’re not just about the Potato Bowl anymore. 

“There’€™s a sense in Boise of forward momentum,” says Treefort founder Eric Gilbert,  frontman of indie-pop group Finn Riggins. Moving back to Boise from Hailey, Idaho, in 2009, Gilbert found a city resembling the Portland of 10 years ago, with a music culture expanding just below the rest of the country’s radar. He started Treefort as a means of galvanizing that growth. But he says the goal isn’t necessarily to make Boise the next Portland. “A lot of us like it for its quaintness,” he says.

In the days before the Internet, though, that “quaintness” is what drove a lot of bands out of town. Historically, Boise has acted as a developmental league for artists who’d go on to greater success elsewhere. Seminal Nuggets-era garage-rockers Paul Revere and the Raiders formed in Boise but didn’t notch their biggest hits until after moving to Portland in the early 1960s. Tad Doyle was the city’s answer to Greg Sage in the ’80s, leading the DIY punk scene before departing for Seattle, starting the band Tad, signing to Sub Pop and getting credited as a grunge pioneer. Until Doug Martsch founded indie-rock guitar heroes Built to Spill in 1992, the closest thing Boise could claim as a homegrown success story was Providence, a ’70s soft-rock group whose lone album went gold in the U.K.

“Portland was in the shadow of Seattle, and we felt we were in shadow of both,” says Todd Dunnigan, a fixture of the Boise music scene for 30 years.

That inferiority complex still existed when Gilbert came back to town five years ago. “The general populace was not listening to a lot of local bands,” he says. That changed in 2011, with the launch of Radio Boise, the city’s first free-form community radio station. Treefort followed the next year, capitalizing on a mindset shifting toward supporting local music rather than regarding it with cynicism. 

“It’s changed drastically in the last few years, like big-time,” says Ryan Peck of Boise synth-pop duo Edmond Dantes, one of the 150 Boise bands playing Treefort this year. “Maybe Boise is still an awkward teenager and not an eloquent adult like Brooklyn, but man, so much has changed.”

“Boise hasn’t seen its golden age,” Gilbert adds, “but it feels like it’s in reach.”

Other residents, though, think it’s still got a long way to go. Netson, who’ll play Treefort with Built to Spill and a reunited Caustic Resin, acknowledges the strides his hometown has made. But for a guy who grew up pining for the grittiness of Old Portland, the city is still too polite for its own good.

“Everyone’s still in the romance period, but for me personally, I’m looking forward to the time it gets more real,” Netson says. “Hopefully it keeps going to the point where people get a little less nice.”

SEE IT: Treefort Music Fest is Wednesday-Sunday, March 19-23, in downtown Boise. See treefortmusicfest.com for a complete lineup. 

A Room With A Loo

Carol McCreary prepares a PHLUSH exhibit on the Twin Bucket Emergency Toilet – IMAGE: Anna Jaye Goellner

The first time I walked up to the yellow house on the corner of Southeast Stark Street and 26th Avenue, I had to pee. 

The door was ajar. When I knocked, only a dog answered. A sign on the wall read, “€œLoud sex is fun.”€ 

I had come to this two-story home because its occupants had listed their bathroom as open to the public, for a fee ranging from $1 to $5. “Small, calm, space, with good company and a cat,”€ the listing reads. 

The home’s bathroom and two others in Portland are listed on a new Web app called Airpnp. 

Instead of renting lodging, users locate the nearest private bathroom whose owners are willing to welcome strangers—in exchange for payment.

Airpnp’s website says, “When there aren’t enough bathrooms nearby for the amount of people in any given location, Airpnp is there to save the day.”

I had more luck at another listing on Southeast Belmont Street, at a business called Nemo Design.

The Nemo Design team was welcoming, and the firm’s restroom had a nice wallpaper décor. According to the listing on Airpnp, visitors could use the restroom, stocked with toilet paper, individual stalls and two sinks, all for $16.95. 

Jessica Raddatz, the company’s art director, says she recently found Airpnp on a music site and thought it would be funny to list Nemo’s restroom.

“We are happy to be early adopters,” Raddatz says. “I don’t know how many people in Portland know about it, but hopefully more places will sign up.”

Portland Center Stage, in the Pearl District, is the third Portland location on Airpnp, although a theater spokesman says he’s not sure how that happened.

“This is a public space,” Center Stage’s James Dixon says. “People are welcome to come here and use the bathrooms.”

Carol McCreary, who co-founded PHLUSH, a public toilet advocacy group in Portland, says Airpnp shows the need for public restrooms but raises issues of fairness. 

“This website shows that people are willing to pay, but what about the people who can’t pay and will be refused access to those private toilets?” McCreary says.

Portland’s Downtown Clean and Safe cleans downtown public restrooms and responds to cleanup calls.  A spokesperson for Portland Business Alliance says in the last six months, Clean and Safe workers have responded to 9,500 calls related to human waste—including vomit, blood, feces and urine. 

“We have a huge problem with public defecation,” McCreary says. “People don’t like to talk about it.”

Airpnp founders Max Gaudin and Travis Laurendine, both raised in New Orleans, created the website after getting caught short during a Mardi Gras parade. (Neither Gaudin nor Laurendine responded to requests for an interview.)

The Airpnp site lists 410 available restrooms around the world—92 in the United States, including 30 locations in the apps’ birthplace, New Orleans. Belgium has 123.

I returned to the house at 26th and Stark three times—no answer. On one trip, my full bladder and I went to the basement apartment, and a man answered. He said he didn’t know where the upstairs occupants were. He hadn’t heard of Airpnp. But he offered to let me use his bathroom. 

I declined. 

[Go here for a story about the City of Portland dealing with Airbnb’s gray-market guesthouses.]

Yoga Issue 2014: Yogi Bare

When it comes to yoga, Portland isn’t the “most” anything.

We don’t have the most studios per capita. Or teachers. We don’t have scads of Lululemon-armored yogalebrities offering swanky workshops every other weekend. We don’t have Super Bowl-winning football teams extolling the benefits of mindfulness meditation. Men’s Fitness just named Portland America’s fittest city for the second year running, but that’s mostly because we take to outdoor recreation—muddy cyclocross races, endurance runs in Forest Park, thigh-burning backcountry ski trips.

And yet with the New Year coming—Gudi Padwa, the Lunisolar Hindu New Year, that is, which begins March 31—we thought it would be a good time to explore this 5,000-year-old tradition, which has at least 100 years of tradition here in Portland, as you’ll read here.

But Portland’s yoga scene isn’t about tradition. Whether it’s our natural idiosyncratic tendencies or some perverse desire to live up to some quirky national reputation, you’ll find a gobsmacking variety of yoga styles in this town, from laughter yoga to fat yoga to naked yoga to bilingual yoga. Portland also does a great job of keeping yoga affordable—find a roundup of budget classes here. That combination of diversity and affordability makes for an accessible yoga scene, but it’s not one-size-fits-all. For help with navigation, we turned to Enid Spitz, a yoga instructor steeped in the yogic ways of Portland and beyond. Find her guide to types of studios, as well as one man’s personal journey through the oven that is Bikram yoga. Finally, we’ll provide some recommendations for the best locally made yoga gear.

Maybe we’re just Zenned out from our citywide exploration of where best to salute the sun and open our chakras, but with the New Year here, we think it’s time to puff some kidneys and melt some hearts. 

 

Suite Surrender

 WW Staff

For the past four years, Sheila Baraga has been running a 21st-century black-market guest house among the soaring elms of the Buckman neighborhood.

Baraga turned a 1908 apartment building on Southeast 16th Avenue into DIY lodgings, giving the seven rooms names like “Urban Cabin” and “Buckman Guest Flat.” Using the online marketplace Airbnb, she’s been renting rooms to vacationers for $50 to $100 a night.

Not anymore. City inspectors sent her a warning letter last month telling her that she was illegally running a business in a residential zone by renting her apartments for less than 30 days. Baraga also isn’t paying lodging taxes or the cost of health and safety inspections as other bed-and-breakfast businesses must do.

Baraga—who has been warned by the city before and twice threatened with fines—knows the city letter was prompted by a complaint from a neighbor. “I obsessively have been thinking, ‘Who is it?'” she says. “I was really upset and I said, ‘I hate my neighbors.’ I don’t want to hate my neighbors.”

A recent check on Airbnb found more than 1,300 Portland homes—most of them renting rooms for the short stays that are the mainstay of Airbnb’s business. Most of them, in theory, violate city rules.

So there was some degree of irony when Portland Mayor Charlie Hales announced March 14 that Airbnb is moving its operational headquarters to a building in Old Town, bringing its North American call center along with 160 jobs. 

Since January 2013, inspectors have received 32 complaints—and issued 25 violation notices, mostly in Northeast and Southeast Portland. Under current rules, homeowners would have to seek a zoning change to operate legally—at a cost of $4,130.

Airbnb has clashed with municipal rules from New York City to Austin, Texas—and Portland is no exception. In January, Portland planning officials proposed zoning-code changes that would ease restrictions, allowing people to rent out one or two bedrooms of their homes after paying a small fee.

That doesn’t satisfy either the entrepreneurs who want to turn their spare bedrooms into guesthouses, or the neighbors who don’t want motels next door.

Steve Unger, owner of Lion and the Rose Victorian Bed & Breakfast Inn in Northeast Portland, says Airbnb has siphoned off business. 

“Some of these places are condos in the Pearl, or mansions in Irvington,” Unger says. “And they don’t have any inspections, and they don’t pay anything, and they don’t notify their neighbors. It creates an unlevel playing field.”

The debate over Airbnb is the most prominent example of Portland’s odd relationship with what’s been dubbed the “share economy”—tech companies that create an online bazaar for people to loan out their homes, cars or even parking spaces for a fee.

This is no community garden: Forbes estimated last year that the share economy produced $3.5 billion in annual revenues for people renting out their places and stuff.

City officials see these borrowing-based companies as a natural opportunity for the city. But they’ve been hesitant to alter regulations to allow them to operate here.

Last year, the city’s taxi review board rejected the car service Uber, which
lets customers reserve luxury-car rides on their cellphones.

“We shouldn’t be the proving ground all the time,” says Josh Alpert, a policy director for Hales. “Let other places see what works and what doesn’t. Nothing wrong with being the first generation of what works.”

Founded in 2008 in San Francisco, Airbnb is now valued at $2.5 billion—booking 6 million guests last year. The company takes a 3 percent cut from renters, and grabs as much as 12 percent in fees from travelers.

“Portland residents are some of our first-ever Airbnb hosts,” says Molly Turner, the company’s public policy director. “We want to be on the up and up.”

Hilary Meehan started using Airbnb in 2011 to rent out the guest bedroom in her home in the Southeast Portland neighborhood of Colonial Heights. She had reached out to the city to try to comply with code and to pay lodging taxes—but realized making her project legal would be too expensive. She shut down her rental.

“I kept stubbornly trying to make it work,” Meehan says. “But I needed to have a zoning permit, and that was going to cost me three grand. What?”

Tamara DeRidder, land-use co-chairwoman for the Rose City Park Neighborhood Association, says she worries relaxed laws will squeeze an already-tight rental market—causing homeowners to evict their poorest tenants.

“These are artists, these are folks on the margins,” she says. “I would hate to see them lose their homes to a short-term renter.” 

The Planning Bureau will unveil its latest code revisions March 21, says supervising planner Sandra Wood.

For her part, Baraga says she is renting her apartments for longer than 30 days, rather than paying the city’s fees.

“They don’t want these renegades out there making money,” she says. “We don’t have somebody telling us what to do, and we’re doing it well? It’s shocking.” 

WW arts contributor Pete Cottell added reporting to this story.