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City of Portland spins web of deceit for Alberta's Last Thursday festivities

Molly Pettit a Northeast Portland musician, sound consultant and long time volunteer for the Last Thursday street fair on Alberta Street in Northeast Portland chronicles how the City has repeatedly and purposefully stifled any attempt to use space creatively for entertainment purposes combining art and politics. Portland, Oregon, 25/08/2010.

Copyright for the story and pictures remain with the creator Alex Milan Tracy 2010. All Rights Reserved. Story and pictures not for use without direct permission. Contact  Alexmilantracy@gmail.com
In February 2010 a vacant lot at 20th and Alberta Street was eyed up as a location for festivities on Last Thursday - a street fair which occurs on the final Thursday of each month where vendors and performers from the local community transform an already funky street into a festival like atmosphere during the space of an evening. Miss Pettit secured permission to borrow the land and proposed a solid plan that would involve music combined with the distribution of political literature from local and national groups such as the Beehive Art Collective, Climate Ground Zero, Indymedia and the Jericho Movement. She would also organise a stage and beer garden whilst following strict codes imposed by the City.

During the course of her planning, the City targeted Miss Pettit as a political organizer, hindering her efforts. She explains, "I was naive enough to believe that I could be upfront about the political aspects of our use of the lot, and it was no secret that my idea to reach the largest possible audience was to combine music and political issues together in one place."

She approached Paul Van Orden, Noise Control Officer for the City of Portland and submitted her community proposal noise variance based on planning undertaken in a community meeting. He explained that there was little he could do and that the City had been trying to get a hold of the plot of land for years.

In terms of noise in this zone, the TIDAL 18 code inherently looks at the source and receiving point of sound in order to protect neighbourhoods from industrial noise. Levels are limited by the law at 65 db until 10pm and 55 db after.

As things stood, Mr. Van Orden could provide no help and he claimed that anyone involved with performing musical events for Last Thursday would have to go before a review board with a hefty fee of $2080. Effectively without the review, the City has the right to go ahead and shut anyone down for breaching the TIDAL 18 Code. Although he was powerless to provide an official permit he reportedly said that if the noise was kept at 72 db near The Know (local bar and venue) they would be all right. "Commercial sound is 70 db but he was being generous so long as things remain consistent and not out of hand," Molly explained. Her professionalism remains at the forefront of her organisation and consistent volunteer work over 10 years for the cause enabled her to forge strong links with such officials.

Having worked on the sound, Miss Pettit went to the Office of Neighbourhood Involvement (ONI) to solidify the proposal of a beer garden and make sure it was up to the local regulations. Here she spoke to Stephanie Reynolds, Portland's Crime Prevention Program Manager to get her to sign off on the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) Temporary Sales License (TSL) required to sell alcohol. Miss Pettit explains that Miss Reynolds thought her proposal for the day was a great idea and stamped the licence saying, "don't worry, put a cheque in the mail for $50 and you will be taken care of" meaning she would fax it through to OLCC.

Not feeling comfortable with the response from Miss Reynolds, Miss Pettit went to OLCC in Southeast Portland to check the endorsed TSL was faxed through which it was.

Ultimately, the license was denied and Theresa Marchetti, Liquor Licensing Specialist responded, "there have historically been many problems associated with uncontrolled alcohol at the Last Thursday event. The TSL was pre-maturely approved before a thorough review could be made of the application, partly due to the miss-characterization of the number of people at the event. Any event over 500 people must be approved by the Commander." This is a very different response from what Miss Reynolds stated at ONI.

Miss Pettit believes that the City is just trying to register vendors and musicians whilst making them pay a food or beer fee of $120 a permit, and then there is the music review committee. "It is a celebration of freedom and a D.I.Y. festival run by and for the community." According to Miss Reynolds the city will collect contact information from all vendors on August 26th. A group of people will be going round to combat this by handing out fliers asking people not to cooperate and not to give their contact info to the City - the community wants individuals and small groups to take charge as needed. All of the previous organizers are willing to step back in if the City moves aside.

In terms of funding the grassroots approach ran costs of no more than $1500 per night. The new alliance would see costs run upward of $10,000-$15,000 a night. Then there is the question of where all this money goes and how the community really benefits. Around 6 years ago a committee under the name of Team Last Thursday was put together in order to keep the street fair run by and for the community. There was no need for a formal organization - one person collected money to rent porta-potties another arranged for garbage to be cleared the next morning whilst some focused on closing the street to traffic and helping to control the crowds. This worked out great and was really an educational effort in how to be good neighbours.

Historically, the City of Portland began to implement changes to Last Thursday in May 2007 by issuing citations, suggesting a shift away from the community grassroots organisational approach. The embers were stoked and what rose up was a more autocratic corporate business-like stance. This basically isolated any community organising and cleaned the slate in favour of a coalition of local businesses and government dragging along with it all the associated bureaucracy and red tape under the umbrella of the Alberta Street Business Alliance.

Early in 2008 Mayor of Portland at the time, Tom Potter, was approached in order to obtain more permanent permission to shut down Alberta street on Thursday evenings, restricting the flow of traffic and pedestrianising the whole zone. After all it seemed absurd not to be able to provide the community with the street space that would promote community spirit and the arts on a street with many brew pubs and bars. Any attempt was submerged until Sam Adams took office as Mayor.

In order to show some community resistance, in June of 2008 they decided enough was enough and if the City consistently refused to listen to their demands, then they had a surprise in store. The streets were blocked off with a one car at the intersection of 24th street and another at 27th street. The street remained closed as a result of the action for 67 minutes until the police resolved the situation and opened it up to traffic again.

By August 2008 the street was closed off to traffic officially for the first time. Community organizers decided upon a solid itinerary for the events, with $50 paid to those helping with security and the general upkeep of providing entertainment with a coherent well structured plan covering every base. Those employed were members of the community that really needed work and may not have a full range of opportunities to secure work for reasons such as facial tattoos, piercings and general lifestyle choices, despite the fact that Portland is one of the most liberal cities in the United States. Portable toilets and trash facilities were strategically placed and there was a well imposed zero-tolerance policy on troublemakers and drunks. The festivities would stop at 10pm with a view to clearing the streets for traffic by 11pm. By 2009 the organizers had made sure that electronic music was kept to a minimum, allowing buskers to fill the streets and not be drowned out by other amplified sounds.

Friends of Last Thursday was formed by the City in the spring of 2010 with the specific purpose of forcing out community organizers. This is exactly what happened as every one of the previous grassroots community organizers refused to play a part in the new group.

The most recent Last Thursday gained national media attention as young girl Julie Murphy and her mother Maria Fife sold lemonade on the street - a typical feat for young kids in America trying to earn some pocket money. Immediately upon setting up stall, officials from the Multnomah County Health Department loomed over and threatened to shut the family stall down, demanding $500 in fines as they did not have the required $120 temporary restaurant license. Members of the community, which the mainstream media straight away labelled as anarchists, supported Julie and her mother suggesting that they give the lemonade away and change the sign so that it read "free lemonade - suggested donation of 50 cents." This simple change would bypass the ridiculousness of the situation and the Health Department Laws, clearly not designed for this action.

As a result a 'Lemonade Revolt' has been coordinated for this upcoming Last Thursday. The idea is to have as many stalls as possible selling Lemonade in solidarity with Julie Murphy to show just how powerful the community can be once it mobilises. The already useless police presence will be doubled costing $11,000 (combined with the private security firm), skyrocketing costs essentially payed for by community members, whilst antagonising inter police community relations which remain particularly tense due to the spate of police shootings and murders in Portland of recent times.

"Northeast Portland wants a day that we own the streets. We do not want to be micro managed by the city who are operating under this front whereby they are very much still in control of every aspect of the organisation process," Miss Pettit exclaimed.

A number of theories have been deduced from the actions of the City with relation to the treatment of Miss Pettit and her professionalism. Perhaps most prevalent is that the city and Miss Reynolds expected her to not follow up on the TSL, so they could set her up as a flake, suggesting that she has no ability to organise and follow through on her work which was the culmination of 4 moths toil with little return.

Quite simply the City is sending out a clear message that they want corporate sponsorship to intervene and flourish much like the annual Alberta Street Fair that recently occurred. The recent controversy regarding the lemonade stand has further pushed people to follow the correct avenues to organise, yet despite their best intentions they are still met with bureaucracy and closed door politics.

Already the Oregonian published a negative article against community organisation on August 23rd titled 'Last Thursday has tipped from family-friendly festival to anarchists' paradise.' The author, Scott Breon, Treasurer for the Northeast Coalition of Neighbourhoods (since June 2010), wrote "In short, Last Thursday (LT) and Friends of Last Thursday (FOLT) is an unsustainable mess. It is too late to fix LT, and it must be scrapped" which "will create a large conflict of a physical nature."

"I have such great hopes for how things could be with Last Thursday, given some structure and direction." Miss Pettit explained. "Designated stage areas have been a stated goal of mine since I began volunteering with Friends of Last Thursday, but without any source of funding, this is the only hope that I have. Everything was 100% by the book; they [the City] specifically went out of their way to sabotage our project."



Copyright for the story and pictures remain with the creator Alex Milan Tracy 2010. All Rights Reserved. Story and pictures not for use without direct permission. Contact  Alexmilantracy@gmail.com

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