The following are prepared remarks for Chair Deborah Kafoury’s State of the County speech to the Portland City Club on Friday, March 18, 2016:
Last year, just about this time, I lost my mother. I want to thank the City Club once again for allowing me to reschedule my remarks to accommodate my family’s need to be together through that difficult period.
One of the things I’ll never forget about my mom is the figurine she kept on her desk, a little man -- it was there to remind her, she told me, to always look out for the little guy.
As time passes, I increasingly see her influence on me:
The way she taught me to define success by your ability to help other people. To pursue integrity through your commitment to do what you say you’re going to do. And to never forget that a true democracy is one that serves the people before it serves the powerful.
I begin today with thoughts of my mother for two reasons: first, it is impossible to be here a year after her passing and not think of the woman who shaped who I am. And I take secret joy at the fact that it scares my husband that I am becoming her with each passing day.
But second, more importantly, because my mom was part of a generation of leaders who made this such a unique place that we became the envy of the country.
Over time, our community has built a reputation as a place that prizes livability and a high quality of life. But that reputation is threatened on many fronts right now.
First, through inequity.
We have one of the best business climates in the country, and corporate profits are doing exceptionally well in sector after sector. But wages aren’t keeping up. A third of county residents don’t earn enough to cover their basic needs. And while our unemployment rate continues to fall, the number of people living in poverty, including those working low-wage jobs, continues to rise.
Second, through complacency.
Unfortunately, we have become a victim of our own self-image and forgotten the hard work it takes to be worthy of that image. For example, we have an incredible, yet false sense of success as a green city.
In February, I found out that like many of you, I live near a toxic hotspot.
Forest Service researchers found that moss collected in neighborhoods across Portland had high levels of heavy metals -- arsenic, chromium and cadmium.
In the days after the news broke, my neighbors grew terrified. One night, I walked into my son's high school auditorium for a public meeting. There were hundreds of parents and worried people there. Everyone was trying to understand how, living in one of the most beautiful, so-called “greenest” cities in America, we could have been exposed to toxins in our air for so long.
There are still too many questions, and as an elected official I have to admit that I couldn’t offer reassurance when my own sense of outrage was -- and still is -- so great at the complete failure of state regulators to protect the health of our neighbors, not the health of businesses.
Finally, not dealing with the new problems caused by our previous success is putting our community at risk.
The fact is, people want to come here, and are moving here in droves. It is foolish to fight market forces, which are driving up home costs all across the region.
But we need to work with developers to ensure a better supply of truly affordable options. Connected to the crisis we see at Multnomah County for people without housing (which I will talk more about in a moment), is a second, and far larger housing crisis which is causing the breakup of historical, racial, and cultural centers. It is making more and more people feel strapped to cover rents that stretch already tenuous household incomes. And it makes home ownership almost impossible on average salaries.
We may still be a bargain for those fleeing San Francisco, but if political leaders and developers don’t come together soon, we are in real danger of becoming just like the place all those people left behind… overpriced and overcrowded.
The real question we face as a community is the same one we struggle with at the county: What are our priorities?
I feel privileged to work with so many people at Multnomah County who keep pushing for fair housing, high-quality health care and an end to racial discrimination and injustice.
I work alongside 6,000 of the most passionate and dedicated public servants in the country. I have seen how much good we can do when we move from saying, “We should” To “We can,” And “We will.”
The greatest challenge we face, in my view, is how to address the housing crisis in Multnomah County.
Over the last year, rents countywide have jumped by double digits and the number of vacant apartments is hovering at 3 percent.
The cheapest two-bedroom apartment is more than the take-home pay of a minimum wage worker and more than the benefits of a single parent with two children on temporary cash assistance.
That’s why people increasingly need rent assistance and help finding a home. But providing these services is getting harder.
We must find ways to include affordable units in the multi-million dollar developments that are rapidly changing our neighborhoods.
We need to work with private developers to increase the supply of affordable housing for renters and buyers.
We also must keep rent affordable; otherwise sky high rent increases and no-cause evictions will push more people to need help.
People who have lived in neighborhoods like Lents, Albina and Cully for decades are finding it harder to keep up with rent. And as they are forced to leave, looking for a cheaper place to live or doubling up with a family member, they take with them the culture and community that makes these places special.
Finally, we need to be creative in how we help people who have lost their home. I have invested county dollars to get people into housing and prevent them from losing it because every dollar we spend putting a roof over someone’s head is many dollars that we won’t have to spend helping someone cope with the trauma of living on the streets.
Last year Multnomah County dedicated $5 million to build more affordable housing.
We’ve also expanded property tax exemptions for developers who set aside 20 percent of new units as affordable. The Portland Housing Bureau expects that this tax incentive alone will produce as many as 300 units each year.
And earlier this month, the Oregon Legislature passed a package of bills that will ensure tenants get 90 days notice before a major rent increase and allow the city of Portland to require developers to set aside a portion of new units as affordable.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman and I pushed hard for the Legislature to make these changes because for too long our hands have been tied by statewide preemptions and gridlocked politics. While I’m happy to see movement in Salem, there’s more that needs to be done.
And I think the work we’re doing locally, by bringing together cities, county, businesses and non-profits, is an example of how to overcome politics and get things done.
Last year, Mayor Charlie Hales and I set a goal: end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.
And we did it. Here’s what that means:
In January we took a survey of the people living on our streets, in cars and emergency shelters and found out that about 690 veterans experience homelessness in our community each year. We set out to house 60 people each month.
But quickly we ran into a problem: Vets who had housing vouchers couldn’t find an apartment to rent.
So I got on the phone. Along with my colleagues at the city, we asked private landlords to pledge units to our cause and give us a heads-up when something opened up so we could house a veteran.
And it worked. Apartment referrals started pouring in and by December we had housed nearly 700 veterans.
We’re not done yet. Veterans will continue to need support. But by investing our resources wisely we now have a system that helps any veteran who is homeless find housing quickly and stay there.
Successes like this shows us the way forward. We have to be willing to do the work.
That was the idea behind A Home For Everyone, a community partnership that brings city and county government together with foundations, business and faith leaders and non-profits to align our community around a single plan to fight homelessness.
Ending veteran homelessness is an example of how this works in practice: We form partnerships, we set goals, we find the money it takes to reach those goals, and we hold ourselves accountable.
Not long ago, the mayor and I got together and pledged $30 million in new resources for more affordable housing, more shelter and more support services.
With this funding we will be able to help another 1,000 people avoid eviction. We will be able to help more than 1,300 women, children, and people with disabilities move into permanent housing.
And we will allocate an additional $10 million to build units that serve those who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness, with a particular focus on housing for those experiencing mental illness.
This new approach is working. Last year we housed 3,500 people, up 17 percent from the year before. And if we keep investing in this work, we can reduce by half the number of homeless people on our streets by 2018.
Last summer Jean DeMaster reached out to me. Her non-profit, Human Solutions had a lead on a property that would allow them to expand the number of families served by their shelter.
The problem? They needed help with the down payment.
I went out to take a look at the property, a shuttered vegan strip club called the Black Cauldron.
Walking inside, there was no light -- natural or electric. And the place still smelled like stale alcohol.
We had to use the flashlight app on our cell phones to see in front of us.
The shelves of the bar were still lined with bottles of tequila and whiskey and a lone high-heel shoe laid on the shag rug stage shaped like a cauldron.
It was no place you wanted to be in the middle of the day -- let alone could I imagine it at 10 o-clock at night. While we knew it was nothing to look at, the price and location were right and the potential value of stability for our services outweighed the downside of the renovation.
So I took the idea to my board and secured the votes. After just ten weeks of renovation, I returned to a building that from the outside looked the same -- but inside is completely unrecognizable.
Light pours in from newly cut windows, the floors gleam, there are comfortable areas for kids to do homework and piles of games and baby toys.
This shelter is now serving 130 people every night. And it’s open year-round, 24-hours a day, with warm showers, a kitchen where families can prepare fresh meals, and staff who can connect people to social services. Any family that seeks help will get it. No one is turned away.
Before this, families had to pack their things and leave every morning. And the shelter was only open in the winter.
I will never forget watching kids lined up at 7 p.m. on a cold wet night waiting for the shelter doors to open, and for a warm place to do their homework and rest.
I’m glad we now have a safe place for these families, but the fact that we so desperately need these shelter beds in the first place reminds me that while we are doing good, we can still do better.
I cite housing as our greatest challenge for three reasons: First, as has already been made clear, because the problem is so large - driven by economic forces beyond our control and affecting so many people.
Second -- while the economy is good we have the opportunity to make limited new investments now which will allow us to serve more people in the future.
And third -- we can’t plan on things being good forever. Sooner or later, an upturn is followed by a downturn. And when that happens, we will see more people losing their housing, many of them ending up on the street.
Because our budget is balanced and our reserves are met for the next three years, our next responsibility after responding to our housing crisis is thinking about our future needs.
Which is why I’ve made sure that the work that needs to be done on our central courthouse, Sellwood Bridge and ultimately the Burnside Bridge gets done.
Last month, I was proud to stand on the deck of the new Sellwood Bridge surrounded by thousands of our neighbors, and celebrate the opening of this seismically safe Willamette River bridge.
The old Sellwood Bridge had a sufficiency rating of 2 out of 100, but for years replacing it was a recommendation without funding or a plan.
As a county commissioner I fought for the project, found the necessary funding and got the project off the ground. And as County Chair, I’ve watched the bridge rise up from the river, providing new safe crossings for bikes, pedestrians and commuters. We built it.
But our work isn’t done.
Last July the New Yorker published a story detailing the devastation of a 9-point Cascadia subduction zone earthquake on Oregon. The scope of the threat is frightening. But I think it shows how important it is to be prepared today.
Before the New Yorker put this issue front and center, Multnomah County was already working on a capital improvement plan for our Willamette River bridges. Last month, we kicked off a study that will find the most cost-effective way to make the Burnside Bridge a safe, earthquake resilient lifeline for first responders.
The Burnside Bridge was built 110 years ago. If we want it to stand for another 100 years, we need to act now.
The same is true for our central courthouse, another project that sat on the shelf for 45 years, but now, is moving ahead. Our hundred-year-old courthouse won’t survive a major earthquake and no longer meets the needs of our community. After years of talking about a new courthouse, we’re finally building it.
We are also moving ahead with a new health department headquarters, located in Old Town. This project will make sure that our downtown clinics, labs and offices will be seismically safe, and bring jobs and economic vitality to a neighborhood that needs them.
I want to take a second to thank Commissioner Loretta Smith for making sure that our new health department building will continue to bear the name of former Multnomah County Chair Gladys McCoy, the first African American to serve on the board of commissioners. Thank you Commissioner.
Last year we reduced the complexity and cost of taxes for small business owners, allowing them to invest more in our local economy and in jobs for local residents.
We raised the minimum wage for Multnomah County employees to $15 per hour, and the Oregon Legislature followed suit, raising the wage for all Oregon workers. A mother shouldn’t have to struggle to hold down two minimum wage jobs in order to afford an apartment for her and her child.
And she shouldn’t have to choose between a healthy baby and a healthy career. But a survey of Multnomah County employees showed that women were taking six weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a baby. Not any more. Multnomah County now provides paid parental leave, joining major employers like Intel and Microsoft -- and, I should add -- most industrialized countries.
We are also continuing important investments in our kids.
This year we are expanding a partnership with the Community Healing Initiative to provide culturally specific services and mentorship to gang-impacted youth. Nonprofits POIC and Latino Network connect kids with mentors who help them develop personally and professionally.
One of the strongest relationships Mentor Randal Wyatt has had the pleasure of building is with Keyshann. He’s a kid who's seen many ups and downs, but has been making steady progress over the last six months.
Wyatt got Keyshann into a recording studio where he was able to hear his voice on a professionally recorded track -- something the two hope to do again.
A few months ago Wyatt and Keyshann went to the Multnomah County Library to fill out a job application. A few weeks later Keyshann was called in for an interview, and thanks to his charm and optimism, he was offered a job at Chipotle.
As a mother, I feel strongly about making sure young people like Keyshann have every opportunity they need to succeed.
This year we brought the SUN program to schools in the Parkrose, Gresham and Reynolds school districts bringing the total number of SUN schools in Multnomah County to 87. The county partners with schools and community organizations to make sure kids have a meal and a safe place to go after school. But our SUN Program is so much more than that. Through our partners, we connect families with parenting and anti-poverty services; we provide academic tutoring and wrap-around supports that help our youth thrive.
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit the SUN program at Ron Russell Middle School, run by El Programa Hispano.
I was greeted by Madeliene Hernandez, who coordinates the SUN school. She was excited and proud to show me around. And it was immediately clear that she felt a connection to the kids and pride about her work.
100 percent of the children at Ron Russell are on free or reduced lunch.
When I got there the kids were on their way to class and Madeliene knew each one by name. Asking them where they were going and how their day was. Then I followed her into the classrooms where I could see the program in action.
Madeline took me to a classroom where IRCO staff were helping Somali kids with homework, working through some of the core nuances in the English language. Skills that will help the students in their studies, but also in building relationships with other students in their school.
In another room, Latino Network staff were teaching a leadership development class. Pairs of students were presenting to the class, facilitating a conversation about breaking down racial stereotypes in the media. They have a big well to draw from -- Donald Trump is all over the TV.
We’re doing a good job, but we can do better.
I heard last year from community members that it was time to make sure that the services we offer are working for all of our kids, whatever their needs are.
We’ve learned - in reports from our own health department - of the depth of disparities faced by people of color in Multnomah County.
Services and organizations that are rooted in communities of color work with kids to create positive cultural identity, a sense of belonging and relationships that help even our most marginalized kids stay on a path to success.
This year we are working more closely with those organizations, making sure that our investments in SUN align with the communities we serve.
Throughout the budget and across the county we are working to eliminate racial and economic disparities.
The county alone can’t solve the inequities in our community. But we can make sure we spend our dollars in a way that helps families, children, seniors and veterans overcome the barriers of institutional racism and economic inequality.
Last year, the county expanded our school-based mental health network, increasing the number of students we helped by 19 percent, to 1,700. Nearly 50 percent of those we help are students of color and this year we’ve increased the diversity of our staff to ensure that we can provide a sense of safety and a sense of belonging for kids in crisis.
These children are witnessing crimes and experiencing trauma that many of us can only imagine. Having mental health counselors in their schools can help kids cope and heal.
One student witnessed a murder outside her home. The terror she felt when she saw the gun, heard the shots and saw the lifeless body fall, haunted her. She could not concentrate on her studies, she could not eat or sleep. And the stress put strain on her relationship with her family.
She began to isolate herself and her family did not know how to help her. They did not have the resources available in their native language of Spanish.
But a county mental health counselor helped this student stabilize her emotions and fight the symptoms of PTSD.
Her counselor brought together the District Attorney’s office, a Gresham Police detective, teachers, school counselors and others to help her cope.
She still feels nervous, but now she can sleep.
As the county health authority, ensuring our kids are healthy and safe is a central part of everything we do, whether it’s our work in schools, in housing, or in public safety.
All of the work that I’ve talked about today is thanks to Multnomah County’s incredibly dedicated employees. Everyday they come to work determined to make someone’s life better. To make their community safer and more equitable. I am lucky to serve with such talented, committed people.
And while I’m up here giving this speech, I know that the successes we’ve had at Multnomah County are not mine alone. I’d like to take some time to highlight the work of my colleagues on the County Commission. As many of you know, three commissioners will leave the board in January, capping distinguished careers serving Multnomah County.
During her time at the county, Commissioner Judy Shiprack has fought to improve all aspects of the criminal justice system. She cares passionately about public safety being fair and equitable – she is a relentless champion.
By dedicating herself to improving our local justice system, she led the county to seek – and win – a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to reduce our community’s over-reliance on jail. Thanks to Judy’s focus, the county is working to reduce racial and ethnic disparities and divert people who suffer from mental health issues into appropriate health care.
Commissioner Shiprack has helped Multnomah County become a model for the State of Oregon’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative - which is an effort to invest dollars locally instead of only using state prison beds.
I also want to acknowledge the important role Judy has played on the commission. Her time in the Legislature taught her how to get things done. She has been a fellow strategist and co-conspirator with a wicked sense of humor.
I plan to continue asking the same question Judy has: How do we spend our public safety dollars wisely?
We know that jail is the most expensive short-term answer to protecting our community. It is sometimes necessary, but we can get better outcomes and make our community safer if we invest in treatment and alternative sanctions for low-risk offenders.
But our work won’t stop with the budget. We must also hold our criminal justice system accountable. The turmoil in our sheriff’s office is deeply troubling and is becoming a distraction from the important work we need to do to keep our community safe.
I want to thank Commissioner Loretta Smith for pushing for answers from the Sheriff’s office about the deep racial disparities in the treatment of jail inmates. An audit from the sheriff’s office that came to light just recently showed that black inmates made up about a quarter of the population, but 39 percent of the incidents of use of force.
The findings in this audit show that our jail practices need to change. I stand with you, Commissioner Smith, in making sure that change happens.
I also stand with you on our two million dollar investment in Promise Neighborhoods - an initiative you championed that is providing targeted wraparound services to children of color in East Multnomah County, with a focus on improving graduation rates, school attendance and positive family engagement.
Commissioner Diane McKeel has also dedicated her time in office to issues close to her heart. She focused the county’s efforts to ensure veterans get the services and benefits they need. She’s made it easier for veterans to get help. She’s also the one at every board meeting to ask: “How will this affect East Multnomah County?”
Thanks to Commissioner McKeel’s leadership, the county now has better relationships with the cities outside of Portland than ever before.
Commissioner McKeel and I had the opportunity last summer to attend the dedication of Snake Field, a new place for kids in Gresham to play soccer.
I want to tell you about one of my Facebook friends, Ricki Ruiz. In 2014, Multnomah County and the City of Gresham applied for a Promise Zone designation from the federal government.
We didn’t get the designation, but that didn’t stop us. And it didn’t stop Ricki.
Ricki grew up in Rockwood, sneaking over a fence to play soccer with friends on a vacant field. They used anything -- backpacks or books -- as goal posts.
He dreamed of a professional- grade field for kids in the neighborhood. But how? Who would pay?
Ricki didn't say, “I'm going to wait in line.” He said, “I'm going to get the money myself.” He called the Portland Timbers. He called other sponsors. As a young intern in the county’s Division of Assessment and Taxation, he brought the right county officials together. So that when the money came in, from the Timbers and grants, the land was ready.
Donated by Multnomah County.
Seeing him on that field showing the kids from Alder Elementary how to dribble a soccer ball is one of my favorite memories of the year. Every kid on that field was making a cherished memory.
I want to take a minute to thank Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis for his partnership at Vance Park and in general. Over the past few years I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Mayor Bemis and working with him and the other east county mayors to ensure that Multnomah County represents everyone who lives within our boundaries. I know Mayor Bemis can’t be here today, but I believe Fairview Mayor Ted Tosterud Wood Village Mayor Patricia Smith and Troutdale Mayor Doug Daoust are here -- thank you for your support. I look forward to working with you all over the next year.
And thank you, Commissioner McKeel, for serving Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview, Wood Village and the whole of East County.
In his time on the county Commission, Jules Bailey has been busy. He championed the county’s investment in the Unity Center, a regional mental health facility opening this fall that will help those in a mental health crisis get the specialty care they need instead of spending hours in a waiting room or being carted off to jail.
He’s also taken the lead on Levee Ready Columbia, a regional project to ensure that the network of levees that protect jobs, homes and farmland along the river are safe.
And he has been a steadfast ally of mine fighting for more resources for housing and homelessness because he understands the need in our community for tangible solutions to these problems.
As a father with a newborn, he also knew the value of making sure our employees had paid family leave. I believe I even met August, his son, on the day that we voted to put that policy in place.
I will miss working with my colleagues that are leaving the commission next year. But I’m certain that their commitment to public service won’t end with the expiration of their term.
Thank you, all of you.
A LOOK AHEAD
But here’s the challenge: there’s so much more to do this year.
The county is on strong financial footing, but the need for rental assistance, affordable housing, mental health services and help for seniors far outpaces the dollars that the county has.
Our community has never seen a housing crisis like this. And it’s only now that we’re in crisis that people are focused on this issue -- which has been important to me for many years.
This is not something that is going to be solved overnight.
We need sustainable funding for our short-term and long-term housing needs. Temporary rental assistance for those living on the edge, permanently affordable housing for working families and supportive housing to help the chronically homeless get in out of the cold.
Which is why the partnership that we have formed, A Home For Everyone, is so important. Together the city and county have been able to combine our resources and eliminate jurisdictional barriers that used to stop us from getting things done.
By aligning our budgets, we are ensuring that we can quickly respond to emerging needs -- like the vote the county took yesterday putting $1 million toward rental assistance and an additional $4.7 million toward a fund to invest in new shelter beds.
But we are also taking the long view. Putting into place a plan for services and investments that will reduce the number of people in our community who become homeless in the first place. To do that, we need to eliminate duplications in homeless services.
Right now, we are working to formalize our partnership by creating a joint city and county office of homeless services. No longer will homeless families be the county’s responsibility and homeless singles the city’s. Finally, all of our community resources will be housed under one roof.
And while that doesn’t sound particularly exciting -- it really matters. Because a mother looking for a warm place for her child to sleep doesn’t care about which government agency is responsible for helping her -- she just needs help.
Mayor Charlie Hales leaving his position with the city of Portland constitutes a challenge to this partnership. Mayor Hales has shown the leadership to identify the city resources necessary to change people’s lives and put us on a path to reducing the number of people sleeping on our streets.
It is my hope that the new mayor will step up and show the same commitment and leadership.
Many of the details still need to be worked out. But our successes over the last year tell me that if we have the political will and guts, we will make this work.
Now is the time to make investments like expanding housing and homeless services because spending wisely today will not only stretch taxpayer dollars for the greatest impact, but also ensure that when the next recession comes we are prepared for it.
During the Great Recession the need for the work we do -- housing homeless families, helping seniors and the disabled and those who are on the edge -- grew at the same time that the number of dollars we could spend dropped dramatically.
We fought hard to hold our safety net in place, but we couldn’t meet the need then and our uneven recovery has left even more people in our community needing help and not knowing where to find it.
By investing the dollars we have today in expanding services we can address the short-term housing needs in our community and set up a long-term plan to keep these supports in place when the next recession strikes.
I want to go back to that town hall in my son’s school for a minute.
I was standing with hundreds of other parents and neighbors who had just learned that their gardens and their children had been exposed to arsenic and cadmium.
These heavy metals were found in dangerously high concentrations in moss samples near Bullseye Glass Company.
They were scared, they were anxious for answers -- and they were angry. Angry about what they saw as inaction on the part of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Then we found out about another hot spot near another glass company, Uroboros in North Portland. Then we found out about another heavy metal: Chromium.
Back in 2011 Multnomah County called on the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to put rules in place protecting the public from these kind of polluters, but our call was met with inaction.
In February, we called on the state to act again. And we told them if they didn’t, we would -- by forming a regional air authority.
I’m encouraged that the state has responded to my calls for stepped up testing of air and soil, this type of action is long overdue.
But the community still has outstanding concerns and questions. Answering those questions quickly is the first step to rebuilding the public’s trust.
The scary part is that pollution from loosely regulated factories is only a piece of the air quality problem in our community.
Oregon has become a dumping ground for dirty diesel engines that are illegal in Washington and California and it shows in our air quality.
Multnomah County has one of the worst exposure rates to diesel pollution in the country, which is especially harmful to children.
Locally we are doing our part. Multnomah County cleaned up our diesel equipment. Mayor Hales and I, along with the Port of Portland and Metro, are committed to passing clean diesel engine procurement standards for all County and City contracts by the end of this year.
But we won't be able to solve this problem locally. The state needs to step up and set an expiration date on dirty diesel engines. We pushed for this in 2015, and will push again in 2017, but we need the Legislature to have the courage to stand up to the lobbyists that get paid to protect polluters.
Too often politicians lose sight of the people they can help if they do the right thing. Our representatives in Salem need to hear from us.
Over the last year I’ve become less patient with our political process. I ran for county chair to impact people’s lives and while the problems that we face are difficult, that cannot be an excuse for not taking action.
And, for all our challenges, I think there are some important opportunities in this moment.
When I think back to that town hall in my son’s high school auditorium, I realize despite the still too many unanswered questions there are three clear positives.
The first is, I see it as a good thing that this has shattered the myth that we can be green without doing the work to hold businesses and government accountable.
Secondly, we clearly sent a message that there are many people willing to get involved who just want to know what they can do. And I think that’s as true in housing as it is in air quality. This community is full of good people who just need information and organization.
The third fact is that it underscores something that I’ve felt for a while, that we in Multnomah County must be willing to lead the way.
We led on minimum wage, becoming the first government in Oregon to put its workers on a path toward a $15 minimum wage. Salem followed, and now workers across Oregon will see their wages rise in July.
When I heard that my then 8-year-old daughter could buy an e-cigarette from a corner store, I didn’t wait for the State. I worked with my colleagues on the county board to regulate this new tobacco product. Salem followed our lead with a statewide policy.
We are also implementing a licensing program for businesses that sell tobacco - the way you need a license in Multnomah County to have a dog, sell a Christmas tree, or run a food cart.
And while the state hasn’t followed our lead on this one yet, I have no doubt they will.
And whether we’re talking about the county leading on housing issues or, if necessary, on air quality, I know when we join together here in Multnomah County, we can drive the entire state to follow.