City, State, PDX Pigs set typical example to PDX Children
As I write this, the Children's Garden on SW 13th and Alder, created by the children of a neighborhood church, is being chopped, burned, and cut to the ground by bureaucratic "progress." Across the street, the children who planted the garden will, no doubt, be in tears when they discover what has happened.
Like hundreds of other people, I walk past the Children's Garden nearly every day. It was one of those success stories. A place once blighted by neglect, now a beautiful garden full of healing herbs and flowers. Once, this corner was barren, eroded, and full of garbage. But the children from the Presbyterian church across the street reclaimed it for the community. They composted, enriched the soil, and planted it themselves, surprising everyone with a newfound eden in the midst of urban decay and dead plastic "gentrification."
This was one of those success stories you hear about; People coming together to create something beautiful for each other for no other reason than the goodness of their souls. This is what community building is all about. In a way, this kind of action threatens the capitalist model, because it enriches the spirit of the commmons. It shows that people are willing and able to give of themselves with no market motive. It was a heartfelt contribution to an underground gift economy that thrives even under the thumb of the invisible hand. I found this garden a joy and an inspiration every day.
Today, I was horrified to come upon it as workers in orange vests assaulted the nasturtiums, the rose campion, the marigolds and the asters. Their weapons were weed eaters, poison and ignorance. The devastation was everywhere. Green leaves and delicate branches lay dying where they had been torn from the ground. The smell of gasoline mingled with the scent of thyme, rosemary, and chlorophyl. The soft curves of drifts of flowers had been replaced by the flat, wasted finality of progress.
I still can't believe the horrific shortsightedness, the bureaucratic madness, that could have led to such a decision. I stopped to ask one of the workers, shouting above the roar of shredders and weed eaters, just what in the fucking hell was happening. He told me it wasn't his decision, but that the city and the department of transportation and the PDX police had decided to destroy the garden because homeless people had used the garden to camp. (Holy shit, let's exterminate any little eden where a homeless person might find refuge.) He gave me a business card of a man he said might be able to answer my questions. One Dan Goodrich of the Oregon Department of Transportation.
I called Mr. Goodrich immediately. First, I got a person named Matt Swann, who said he didn't know who had made the decision, didn't know when Mr. Goodrich would be back, and that he was "just the guy who answers the phones." Asked whether he could connect me with someone who knew something, he said he could not. I then called Mr. Goodrich's cell number (see below), and finally reached him. He told me that the garden was being sacrificed because the children of the church "didn't meet the permit requirement of the City of Portland." He reiterated that it wasn't his decision, that he was only following orders. Asked whose decision it was, he said he didn't really know. He said the City of Portland told his department to destroy the garden, and that "it had to do with Jeff Meyers of the Portland Police."
"Would that be the tall gentleman with the interesting hair?" I asked. He laughed, and said it was. So, the pretty officer Meyers does more than walk around talking into a tape recorder. He also participates in the destruction of community gardens. Asked why Officer Meyers would do such a thing, Mr. goodrich said it was because there had been "trespass problems." Trespass problems? In a public space? He said that the garden was a "park-like setting," and that because of that, the city was "having problems evicting people who were causing problems for people who walk on the sidewalks."
I told Mr. Goodrich, as I tell you right now, that I walk on these sidewalks every day and I have never, ever, ever had a single problem with anyone in the area of the garden. Never. Not until today, when I had a problem with people who were desecrating part of my community.
Mr. Goodrich repeatedly claimed that this was not his decision, that he only does what he's told, and that he was told to do this. I asked him again, who exactly made the decision? He gave me bureacracies -- it was the city, the state, and the police -- but would not give me any information about where, exactly, the buck stops. WHO made this decision? Who can I call? Who is accountable for this crime? The only name he gave was the lovely officer Meyers. When pressed, Mr. Goodrich finally said, "It was the kids across the street, and the church across the street." He said "the ball was in their court" and that, "They didn't want to be accountable for the liability this was causing. They were given the option to change the permit, but they didn't want to."
The kids across the street? They PLANTED the garden! How could it be their decision for these mesomorphs to tear it down? According to Mr. Goodrich, "It was their decision. They started it."
Despite this assurance, I decided to go elsewhere to seek the responsible party so that I could register my dissent. As he had named Officer Meyers, I called Central Precinct. The lovely Meyers was out, alas. He was unavailable to answer any questions. I tried a few times, and plan to try again later. You may want to call him as well. (Again, see below.)
Since the City had been named, I called the Mayor's office. Apparently they knew all about it, because the person who answered the phone seemed to know what I was talking about. Nevertheless, she said that the mayor had nothing to do with it, that this was an "inter-bureau agreement between the three parties" [ODOT, PDX Police, and City of Portland]. When I pointed out that the City of Portland is run by the mayor, the receptionist gave me a quick civics lesson in why this is "not handled at the level of the elected official." Something about their being 5000 employees and bla bla bla. Who, then, I asked, Made the fucking decision??? (I didn't say fucking, after all, this is just a receptionist trying to do her job. But I felt like saying it.)
She replied, "I don't know." She then offered to put me in touch with my elected representative, ("because, I don't know if you know how this city government works, but you have an elected representative in charge of all this") who is in charge of parks. Wait. Didn't she just say these things aren't handled at the level of the elected representative? Well, this was different. This person might have something to do with it, but "the mayor has no authority over him." Who might that be? None other than one Jim Francesconi. This, as you must have guessed, was a dead end. I called Mr. Francesconi's office and was told that he was "not in." The person who answered the phone said she didn't know anything about it, didn't know who would know anything about it, and couldn't help me. I asked when Mr. Francesconi might be in. She said, "Well, when he's in, he's usually in meetings. He has staff people who can handle these calls. Er, I mean, who can answer these kinds of questions." Isn't that interesting. Apparently, they can't actually answer these kinds of questions, but they do an admirable job of "handling these calls."
The point of all this is that no one is willing to be accountable for the crime taking place at 13th and Alder. It's too late for the plants that grew there until this morning. They've been carved out of the earth and trampled. But it's not too late to set a better example for the children of our community who gave us this gift than the City of Portland, ODOT, and the PDX Pigs have set. Please help me do something about this.
Here are some contact people whom you might call:
Dan Goodrich, ODOT landscape coordinator: Office: 503-353-9001, Cell:503-969-7526
Officer Jeff Meyers: Central Precinct, ask for Meyers: 503-823-0097
Mayor's Office (ask for Katz, just for fun. She won't talk to The People, but you can always try):503-823-4120
We might also consider some other kind of action. I'm too dazed by the whole event to think clearly right now, but I will be thinking about what we can do. If you get an idea before I do, please post it.
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