Opposition to the very idea of a bar in that location, which is smack-dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood, was passionate. Kimberly Mark-Villela, who is the Liquor License Notification Specialist for the city, informed the assembled group that the opinions of those who live within 2 blocks of the licensee are most important to OLCC. 18 people who lived that close to the proposed Night Light spoke; all but 2 of them were opposed to the establishment. These folks were half and half women and men, mostly over the age of thirty. Many were parents. Several were long-term home-owners in the neighborhood. One person had lived there over twenty years and her house had been "in the family" for fifty. |
Reasons for opposition were many, but the most frequently named were concerns about noise and the late operating hours. Indeed, if you know this neighborhood (as i do, both living and working in it), you know that this particular intersection is inappropriate for a bar that's open to 2:30. It just wouldn't fit there, surrounded by quiet streets and small, unpretentious houses. And, across the street, at the south-western corner of 21st and Clinton, a developer is planning a new development of up to ten commercial openings, one of which might be another business asking for a liquor license, too. If the Night Light gets its license, it'll be that much easier for any new business to do so. Basically, it looks like capitalists want to turn 21st & Clinton into another 26th & Clinton. Neighbors at tonight's meeting don't want that, but have little control over whether that happens.
Opal, it looked to me, had tried to pack the meeting with people in favor of their bar. However, almost none of them lived in the neighborhood, and only one lived within two blocks. All of them were from the twenty- or thirty-something demographic they are aspiring to attract to their business. Their testimony ranged from "it'll be cool" to "Portland is a city and you can't stop it" to "they're cool, you don't have to worry". The shallowness of their sentiments, when compared to the articulate complaints put forward by neighborhood residents, was stark, and only served to illustrate how out of touch Opal is with the neighborhood.
By their own admittance, Opal did not go door-to-door during their planning stages, so didn't catch wind of the neighborhood sentiment until after they began investing in the building, making renovations, etc. They did, however, consult with HAND folks, who let them know there would be issues with the late operating hours. They decided to go ahead with it anyway. One woman who talked to them about her concerns, and who had recently moved in next door, was told by one of the owners that she should've checked the maps and seen that she was moving in next door to a lot that was zoned commercial before she bought the place. In other words, it's her lack of responsibility that is leading to this situation, not theirs. Insensitivity like this didn't seem atypical of the Opal crowd.
My favorite bit of commentary was from a woman who lives a couple doors down from the proposed establishment who is a mother and a musician. She's been playing gigs all over town for 20 years, so is not against bars in principle. "Just not here," she said. "If you move in, we'll shut you down."
One of the Opal crowd complained about this statement, saying that he didn't feel threats were necessary. (This is to say nothing about the fact that their move into the neighborhood, and the way they're going about it, is essentially a threat.)
The woman apologized, saying, "I didn't mean it as a threat. It's simply a fact." Yay! She had spirit, as did many of the other folks at the meeting, especially the women. The men seemed more into the idea of "compromose"; perhaps men are socialized more to "work out deals" with the system rather than resisting it, since they are raised more than women to be part of it?
There are stakes in this situation with the neighborhood for Opal and the Night Light. If HAND withdraws its opposition to the liquor license application, the OLCC will most likely grant it summarily and soon. If HAND retains its opposition, the OLCC may or may not act more cautiously, or perhaps call for a hearing. The OLCC is not concerned with issues of traffic, trash, or parking; they only want to hear about alcohol related issues (even though more traffic, trash, and parking would surely result). In this way, they are a typical government bureaucracy; the big picture, or the full spectrum of complaints, are never of interest to any one agency. Instead, each one picks its area of concern and listens only to complaints within that topic. The fact that six other developments are happening in the immediate area, for example, is of no interest to the city zoning office that will decide if a lot across the street from the Night Light, at 21st and Taggart, is rezoned commercial from residential. This is one of the lessons that was imparted during the walking tour of the neighborhood on Feb. 29, during the Leap for Localization that the No Starbucks in 7 Corners campaign sponsored.
This system is fucked, frankly, and that was illustrated very well at tonight's meeting of neighborhood residents and the Opal Corporation. The city facilitator, after observing the gulf between the parties, asked if there was some compromise or "middle way" that could be found. A woman from the HAND board then pointed out that neighborhood residents already have "the cards stacked against them" because of how liquor-industry-sponsored laws work (not to mention city zoning laws and the lack of public input into most decisions that affect people). i sat there thinking, "Why compromise? The place we're starting from is already compromised!" That is, there's no legal reason at all why new business owners have to talk to their neighbors or try to work things out with them. A business owner can simply waltz in and do what they want, for the most part. Meanwhile, long-term residents can have their neighborhood turned upside down around them and have nothing to say about it.
Folks from HAND were candid with Opal about the concerns they were hearing, and about where they stood on the matter. Support for a 2:30 closing in the neighborhood seemed very weak, and the opposition strong. i think they were sensing the same thing i was sensing; that if Night Light goes in with a 2:30 closing time, that some of these folks right nearby might organize themselves to get it shut down. i know, also, that HAND folks have noticed all the changes going on in the neighborhood at once, and are seeing the value of putting a foot down. In isolation, this bar is a problem enough, but in combination with the other developments, it could be tremendously problematic.
In an era of corporate globalization, one positive response is cooperative localization. Hence, the importance of getting involved in your neighborhood, at the very local-est level, and fighting the issues that are geographically closest to home. Whether it's a Starbucks, a corporate food store, or a new hipster joint with too-late hours, targets are easy to find in Seven Corners right now; in some ways, this feels like ground zero.