PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After tabling the decision last week, the Portland City Council voted to renew a contract with Downtown Portland Clean & Safe on Wednesday.
The organization, which is operated by the Portland Business Alliance, provides security, sweeps sidewalks, removes graffiti and litter and pressure washes throughout the district, but does so through private contracts paid by the city.
On Wednesday morning, the City Council voted to renew the Clean & Safe contract for another five years at $25 million — with Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty being the lone voice of dissent.
Hardesty had proposed extending the contract for one year so they can see if the current model was the best for downtown before continuing to move forward. The other commissioners and mayor voted against that amendment.
“The piece that’s missing from this contract with its improvements is what are we going to do with those severely mentally ill people who are occupying our downtown and all over our streets all over Portland,” Hardesty said. “Nothing in this contract addresses people who are suffering with severe mental issues.”
The City previously had a 10-year deal with Clean & Safe, which was set to expire on Thursday.
Commissioner Mingus Mapps said Clean & Safe collected more than 73,000 bags of trash, more than 47,000 needles and cleaned up 46,000 biohazards in 2020. He said the police and fire bureaus don’t have adequate resources to pick up the extra 1,200 calls a month that Clean & Safe responds to if the contract wasn’t renewed.
“If we fail to renew this contract, the basic public services this council provides to residents and businesses downtown will disappear. In other words, if we fail to approve this contract, downtown will become less livable and less safe,” he said. “Our market research shows there’s a new reason Portland is no longer a tourism destination: tourism has died here in Portland because potential visitors view Portland as unsafe and unlivable.”
Commissioner Dan Ryan echoed those worries for the city’s tourism industry, saying the University of Oregon opted against opening a campus in Old Town over safety concerns.
David Margulis, the owner of Margulis Jewelers, called Clean & Safe “a very worth institution downtown” that “helps all of the merchants, the people on the street and the visitors.” He said he doesn’t think City Council has done enough to clean up Portland in the last year.
“I think that they need to put higher pressure on cleaning up for sanitation and garbage pickup, it’s crucial. It should be the top of their priorities,” he said. “If we want to attract employees back downtown, as well as visitors, this is vital.”
Margulis said he’s always seen Clean & Safe staff being polite and kind as they carried out their work.
“Since its inception, the city’s collaboration with Clean & Safe has played an important role in improving the vitality and livability of the downtown area,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said during last week’s meeting.
Wheeler said their services are needed now more than ever. However, many disagree — citing alleged harassment by security guards and allegations the program misuses funds.
Dozens of community members told commissioners just that when they were set to vote on the renewal last Thursday.
“We ask that you renew this contract for one year only so that you and your staff can take a closer look at just how that $6 million-plus is spent every year,” said Ashley Henry, the executive director of Business for a Better Portland.
Bryan Taylor, who identified himself as a security guard, told the council, “213 city blocks of Portland are treated as a city-within-a-city where private police can punish and remove people who would not be punished and removed by an average Portland police officer.”
Jessie Burke, who owns the Society Hotel in Old Town and has served on the Clean & Safe board of directors, supports the program. As a hotel owner, she said, she’s on the ground in downtown Portland all the time and interacts with their staff. She believes in what they do.
She said she has “witnessed first-hand not only the fiscal and operational albatross that this contractual relationship is to the success of Clean & Safe, I’ve also witnessed the bullying from PBA.”
Burke and others who spoke at the City Council meeting Thursday say the council should change who operates it.
“After observing first-hand the bullying, manipulation and exploitation by PBA leadership and PBA board members toward Clean & Safe staff & board members, I resigned,” she said.