If you’ve been kept up late by a loud night club or obnoxious neighbor, Paul Van Orden, the city’s noise control officer, is there to help as the city’s noise control officer.
But Van Orden, a 40-year-old transplant from the East Coast, is looking for a new job replacing Jeff Cogen as county commissioner representing north and northeast Portland.
In 2006, Van Orden ran an insurgent write-in campaign for sheriff against the scandal-ridden Bernie Giusto that captured 10 percent of the vote.
He spoke to the Portland Observer at the Waypost coffee shop in northeast Portland. His remarks have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What endorsement are you going after?
All the major organizations. On the environmental side the Sierra Club, that’s looking pretty promising. We filled out the NARAL [a national pro-choice organization] information last night. It’s just such a long list of endorsements we’re basically going to try for them all. I’ think we’ll do fairly well.
So why’d you decide to file last minute?
Well to me it wasn’t last minute. I’ve been working in this neighborhood for 14 years. I’ve lived here right around the corner for 13 years. I’ve worked on a lot of social equity and social justice issues. For instance, in the last 14 years, when the city hired me out of New York to take on the city’ noise control office I immediately noticed that the city’s services were directed to the more affluent neighborhood, the communities in northwest and southwest. So I’ve tried to redirect energy toward people in north and northeast Portland.
For instance, I was able to get Mayor Adams to support studying the noise in north and northeast Portland as a region of the city that was more impacted than the rest of the city. So we’re trying to look at issues like the noise from the race track, the railroad, the fact that there’s a high level of cargo traffic in north and northeast Portland. So in terms of running in this race, it’s not something that I say is really different than what I’ve done for 14 years in Portland and 20 years as an environmental officer.
What are your priorities?
Well I state pretty clear that I have three primary focuses. And I say that because I look around at some of the folks who are in office right now and they have their hand in every single subject and they’re not necessarily effective in making change. The first one is jobs. So one of the things I’ll definitely do is utilize 20 years working in the environmental field. I would use not only my experience in the environmental field and understanding what’s necessary to attract those businesses, but experience internationally working with friends in Germany and Holland and just the general concept that we’re not going to jump in this and say we’re going to do sustainable you have to have been doing it.
My wife and I are about to go almost completely off the grid with the Northeast Solarized Project. It’s more about being a leader and understanding how that world works. I do feel that 14 years working with the city of Portland with a program that interfaces every single single county agency, everything single state agency, many federal agencies, I think I have the body of knowledge and the network to actually accomplish directing jobs to the Portland area. But more specifically if you look at sustainable industries, there’s a pretty notable disparity. And what I mean by that is most of the jobs tend to gravitate towards people who are of a higher socio- economic background, Caucasian, folks, because they’re the ones who often get the most education. I jumped on board with Northeast Solarized and David Sweet to make that happen. Their focus was on bringing jobs to our neighborhood where there is disparity in finding jobs,. And these are good jobs; they’ll be here for a long time.
Number two, if you look at the county law enforcement system, the sheriff’s office, last time I ran for sheriff’s office some people might say that was just a write in candidacy that didn’t have any effect. It most definitely did have an effect. It garnered the largest number of votes. It garnered an enormous amount of press against Bernie Giusto. It was able to further ideas that no one else was talking about: the sheriff should not be the administrator that makes very important monetary decisions. A sheriff or a law enforcement officer, like myself, should focus specifically on law enforcement needs on corrections needs, not on the fiscal elements. that’s not their strength.
I will do everything that I can to continue all the good work that Ted Wheeler started. There’s no one to continue that work with Ted stepping down. If you look at the other candidates, none of them have the background to do this.
The third element is the overall picture: environment and sustainability. I’ve worked in this realm for so long. There are issues like equity in terms with social services and food security that as a member of the board of directors for Growing Gardens for six years I’ve found innovative ways to not spend the county’s resources, but have a non-profit supply low-income families with gardens to grow their own food. That’s a win-win program. It’s hard for the county to do that. The administrative costs and oversight at the county are phenomenal, but if you put that back into the hands of non-profits you serve the community in a better way. So my third focus is kind of on a broad spectrum of environmental issues that resound with the community. Air pollution, noise pollution, food equity all issues that I have experience with, and I know the entities needed to work with to make change in these areas.
Is there anything the county can do to mitigate gentrification?
You know I would love to say, and you could ask all of my neighbors, especially ask my neighbors of color, I’ve worked to encourage folks not to leave the neighborhood. It’s hard when we’ve gotten as far as we have. If you look at the Census data there’s been a massive change in just a short period of time. The challenge is there’s not a ton of tools the county interfaces that make it a giant change in slowing gentrification other than being a civic leader and being vocal about the needs.
I fought a project up here that the Menashe brothers were just going to dump a project that really wasn’t that well thought out that wasn’t that needed; it had no sustainable elements. So in terms of gentrification the county doesn’t have a lot of influence over rent controls, but I will be the greatest voice to the extent that I can be for rent control for different elements to make sure that the existing community isn’t pushed out. I’d like to encourage people to move back to the inner-city. I’ve been vocal about fighting the city on Williams and Vancouver being one-way roads. That created a super highway that broke up the community. These were active businesses. There’s no continuity. So by the time they finally change it back gentrification will have extend so far that the fight is somewhat over. You’re questions a challenge because we’ve moved so far forward on gentrification that the things I’ve advocated for in this neighborhood are pretty difficult to turn back.
What’s Jeff Cogen done right? What could he have done better?
I think that Jeff’s done a fairly good job of serving the community in an equitable fashion. If I had an overarching concern, I’d say he does a good job of recognizing what we need in the community and applying that in an equitable fashion.
I think he’d be a great ally. When he was in [City Commissioner] Dan Saltzman’s office we worked closely on a variety of projects. I was a supporter of his when he ran for county Commission, and I think that it won’t be very hard to bring some unique issues to the table that Jeff will support me on.
What are some political figures in Oregon’s history that you admire?
Obviously, one I’ve already mention din the press is former Mayor Bud Clark. Here’s a guy who’s a working class figure who put his bar and restaurant up for mortgage to run for mayor and served the community in a very equitable way. He reformed the police bureau in many ways. He brought us community policing. If there’s anything we’ve lost it’s we’ve watered things down to where we’re really not doing community policing.
Charlie Hales, who’s backing me in this run, who’s brought jobs to this community, he’s given Oregon a face with light rail, streetcar, all kinds of transit elements that help bring jobs to Oregon in a real way. This helped bring long-term jobs to Oregon.
And then probably one that hopefully readers know is Richard Brown, a community activist. I don’t necessarily look at elected officials as the only folks who shape our community. As I keep stating on the campaign trail there’s a concept I operate under called” Portland People Power.” Portland is not so much shaped by its politicians, it’s shaped by individuals like Richard Brown who has worked in the community for how many years. The folks who fought Paul Allen to not allow an giant amphitheater in the middle of Portland International Race Track, or Irwin Bergman who fought the airport to not allow it to test run engines in the middle of the night.