‘We need action now’: Old Town orgs call for 30-day plan

Multnomah County

Old Town businesses sent letters to city, county officials

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The executive director of the Lan Su Chinese Garden said cultural institutions nationally have regained more than 75% of their pre-pandemic visitor attendance — but the Chinese Garden hasn’t even regained half.

“Our staff through COVID, through everything, they have worked so hard to keep Lan Su this amazing place to come visit and they cultivate this safe, tranquil oasis every single day in their work,” said Elizabeth Nye. “They’re having to come to Lan Su and bear the weight of the fact that our neighborhood is not safe. They’re being attacked on the way to work, they’re attacked at work.”

Nye, plus leaders with the the Japanese American Museum of Oregon, the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education and the Portland Chinatown Museum sent letters Monday to city and county leaders seeking plans to address the dangerous conditions in the area. They asked city commissioners and Mayor Ted Wheeler to create 30, 60 and 90-day plans.

“On one level it was like OK, we made it through COVID but we might not survive the crisis in Old Town that’s resulted,” Nye said. “We can’t keep living in the environment we’re living in.”

Police responded to a shooting at NW 4th and Flanders in Old Town, October 9, 2021 (KOIN)

“They see what’s happening on the streets around us all the time, so this juxtaposition between working so hard to provide this safe tranquil space and feeling unsafe themselves, it’s just, it’s mentally unsustainable. We can’t keep doing it. We talk about burnout every single day. Every day.”

The groups have been in communication with city leaders over the past month, and sent letters to the mayor and county commissioners Lori Steggman and Sharon Meieran plus city commissioners Jo Ann Hardesty and Mingus Mapps.

Last month Nye and the other cultural institution leaders met with the city and county commissioners to ask how they plan on tackling these issues. But she said she and her counterparts walked away discouraged by the lack of urgency from the commissioners.

Elizabeth Nye, the executive director of the Lan Su Chinese Gardens in Portland, September 30, 2021 (KOIN)

The organizations supported additional funding toward policing, mental health services and trash pickup, but were discouraged that it could take anywhere from a few months to years before changes could be seen.

“The earliest proposal that we heard was March for one of the proposed solutions but most of them were acknowledged a year out,” Nye said.

Mapps presented the most urgent plan, she said. At an event in Southeast Portland Monday night, Mapps was asked specifically about the Old Town issues and he pointed to the fall budget that provides money for museum security.

Portland City Commissioner Mingus Mapps, November 1, 2021 (KOIN)

“I believe that we are going to make allocations of about $100,000 to a handful of critical, cultural institutions downtown that will help them find the right public safety fixes to help them just literally keep in business at this point,” Mapps told KOIN 6 News. “We have folks who are afraid to go to work and people who are afraid to visit the museums and gardens we gotta turn that around.”

“On one level it was like OK, we made it through COVID but we might not survive the crisis in Old Town that’s resulted.”

— Elizabeth NYe

“Our staff are fielding questions and concerns from the people visiting saying, ‘Wow, is this how it always is?’ and ‘Wow, oh my gosh, this is really scary,'” Nye told KOIN 6 News. “So they’re having to field those comments and questions constantly.”

However the group has still not met with Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who told them the earliest she could schedule a meeting in November 22.

KOIN 6 News reached out to Hardesty’s office about that and have not yet heard back.

“At the end of the day we’re all leaders of cultural institutions and what we do really well is run our institutions,” Nye said. “I don’t have the solutions for all the crisis and problems we see on the streets but we hired elected leaders for these jobs and all of us are asking these leaders and their staffs and their bureaus to come together and come up the solutions that our city deserves.”

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