Editorial | Clean & Safe is a dirty deal
The city’s links with Clean & Safe lack control. The city should not be rushing to approve a new contract.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty described the rush by some members of Portland City Council to sign a new five-year contract with Downtown Portland Clean & Safe as putting “the cart before the horse” at the September 23 council meeting.
Truth be told, the cart has been dragging the horse behind it for years at this point.
The board postponed the vote to September 29, and Hardesty proposed an amendment to extend the contract for one year – rather than five – to allow the decision to be better informed by a review of Enhanced Service Districts (ESDs).
There is a lot of jargon used to describe what amounts to a serpentine arrangement. Here’s the gist: Clean & Safe includes cleaning and security services paid for by owners of downtown buildings and businesses in the form of charges collected by the city – these are âenhanced servicesâ.
Then the vast majority of that money, over $ 4.7 million in 2019, goes to the Portland Business Alliance – essentially, the chamber of commerce – for “management services.”
In other words, in addition to cleaning and security, property taxpayers fund part of the salaries of LAP employees.
Evidence invited to the September 23 meeting, exclusively from people who benefit financially from the contract and support signing a new one, attempted to substitute a sleight of hand in the business world for the facts. Phrases such as “independent advice” and “contract services” were plentiful from those city staff argued for to show their support at the meeting.
However, Maureen Fisher, former executive director of Clean & Safe, let the cat out of the bag in 2019 tax returns when she said Clean & Safe employees “are all employees of the Portland Business Alliance.” .
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Journalists are told to “follow the money”, and that’s a pretty short trail of breadcrumbs on this one. This leads from taxpayers to the city, to Clean & Safe, to PBA salaries, which in turn frees up PBA funds for expenses such as lobbyists and a PAC to help secure the re-election of Mayor Ted Wheeler.
Of course, it could be argued that the city is in dire need of downtown security and cleaning services, and the Clean & Safe contract already provides them.
There is indeed a sanitation problem in the city center, but that alone should not justify the signing of a new long-term contract by the city. A system could exist for cleaning services without lining the pockets of some of the city’s wealthiest and most influential people.
Cleaning services are, after all, provided by Central City Concern’s Clean Start program, which hires people who are homeless or face other barriers to employment. Clean Start operates in other parts of the city without this larger arrangement.
Perhaps instead of directing funding towards more private security – including retired police officers who are employed by Portland Patrol, which handles a large part of the Clean & Safe security contract – it can instead be directed to non-police response groups like Portland Street Response, driven by data and research, rather than fear and profit.
These structures are used to police the daily life of homeless people. A 2018 guidance document from Berkeley Law found that Business Improvement Districts’ public-private partnerships (the somewhat less euphemized title for an ESD in other areas) largely serve to exclude and monitor people without home. The city of Portland does not need any help with this, given that nearly half of all Portlanders arrested were not housed in 2017, 2018 and 2019 – all years analyzed by the Oregonian.
What about the social services provided by Clean & Safe, such as the promise to hire mental health professionals to help people in crisis. The study found that “the involvement of the BID in social services is experienced by the homeless as an additional form of policing, surveillance and harassment”. Maybe city leaders don’t know because homeless people don’t have tens of thousands of dollars at their disposal to lobby.
In May, Wheeler and Commissioners Mignus Mapps and Dan Ryan blocked expansion of the Portland Street response to other neighborhoods such as the downtown and Old Town until the Lents pilot project did. under further evaluation – but this Clean & Safe proposal privatizes mental health awareness without the same oversight. Again, it’s all winding, with money and liability moving back and forth between private and public coffers, rather than the city simply providing the services.
The current system, according to the city’s own auditor, has created a âcity within a cityâ. This city is owned and managed by the highest bidders, and has no accountability to voters.
The municipal auditor seemed aware of these issues: âIf we are to continue to allow geographic areas of the city to allow it, then we need to put in place governance and accountability structures.
These governance and accountability structures are not in place. The sad reality is that all of this seems to have been won in advance. The best bet to slow down the new contract might be the one-year extension offered by Hardesty.
The September 23 meeting itself was as good as the listening sessions on the subject. Look no further than âwe hear youâ style rhetoric, in the vein of âthoughts and prayersâ on the part of the council members backing the contract, and the fact that the city did not bother to book only the people who supported him.
Certainly, Wheeler and Mapps, co-sponsors of the proposal to sign the contract, are acting according to the will of the people. The central question is which people.